Homes and Gardens

I went into the garden, but could not sit in my usual seat. I thought, how beautiful to be here, and wake up to this:

and how horrible. In October it might be bearable, in January it would frighten me. Not just the cold, but the possible lawlessness.

A man comes out to join me. The Quaker meeting is discerning about this use. It’s the only place in the town centre which is not patrolled by guards or wardens. The other side of the garden, a prostitute plied her trade, having laid a mattress behind the bush, and they only found out about it when she led two men in while a Quaker was there.

Now it is another bed-space. You can’t sleep in polythene bags, all the sweat condenses inside the bag and soaks you. Possibly that sock is hung out to dry, or wash in the rain. There’s a water bottle hidden in the bushes. You need access to water. Most people, he says, put cans in the waste bin.

He goes to put a large piece of cardboard in the recycling bin. It could be insulation for bedding. The council take the view that there are sufficient spaces in hostels so that no-one need be homeless, but the hostels are unpleasant, and you cannot enter under the influence of drink or drugs.

Hard exercise in Meeting again. Do I have an Inner Guide? I can discern different ego-states, but the part seeming closest to real me is the depressed and lacking in motivation part which says Don’ wanoo when the rational bit says what it would behove me to do. Someone quotes Isaac Pennington: Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.

and, she said, it is not. That is a lovely ideal, and there are tensions. And- we- can just- try- to- follow- the- Spirit.

It seemed to me that she was going beyond her leading, trying to get some hope, and the slowness with which she squeezed the words out showed the Spirit’s resistance. But that could just be my pessimism, at this moment.

I had thought, how beautiful are all the people here! I love them! And, I can be guarded, or even acting a calm, collected front; I can be present in the moment, aware of my surroundings- can I be Open?

Intermittently, perhaps. But when she quotes Pennington, I start to weep, and go out to wipe the mascara smudges from under my eyes.

Outside, there are a group of four people, in torn dirty clothes, chatting and perhaps drinking on one of the benches. I tell a local Friend, and he says they know them.

Homelessness

The council has to house anyone who is homeless, in priority need, has a right to reside in the UK, and is not “intentionally homeless”. The problem is that they do not have the housing available to fit this obligation. So they play games, in order to avoid their obligation.

One game is the definition of¬† “In priority need”: “vulnerable” people are in priority need. A man with a broken leg in plaster was found not to be “vulnerable”. If you have a child under 16, you are always “vulnerable”. Locally, they are given a double room in a hotel at a cost of ¬£80 a night. My friend visited an offered room, and found it disgusting. This is not suitable for a couple with two children, even for a night. They might be there for weeks, with no cooking facilities. So only the most desperate will stay. If they do not accept this offer, the council has fulfilled its obligation and they have no further rights. They might stay there for weeks or months before social housing becomes available.¬† A quick Google finds 3* hotel double rooms for ¬£50 a night locally, without the guarantee for the hotelier of a steady stream of customers, or long term residency: this is not a place where people go for holidays.

Either there is incompetent negotiation of prices on the part of the council, or corruption: the hotel belongs to a former Tory councillor.

The Tory government felt the need to limit the housing File:Cruikshank - Fagin in the condemned Cell (Oliver Twist).pngbenefit bill. This is a commendable aim. So they assessed rents in particular areas, and set the “local housing allowance” at a level which would pay for 30% of the lets offered. Because the areas were badly defined, in some parts of Manchester according to CAB research the LHA would only pay for rents of 2% of houses offered. They then failed to increase this amount, even by the rate of inflation. The result is that benefit payments of rent decrease in real terms year on year.

To house vulnerable people, we had council housing, at much cheaper rents. However the Tory government destroyed this national asset, by forcing its sale. Worse still, they stoke up the housing market. Currently there are Government schemes giving money to potential first time house buyers. The result is to inflate house prices, and housing costs generally, beyond what the market will bear. The government creates a pyramid scheme inflating house prices.

So, while taking action to push up rents for those who cannot afford to buy, they are also taking action to reduce the help the most vulnerable people get for their housing. The two policies together are wicked.

Sunlight

I walked up the hill, where I do not normally go, and there was the Sunlight Centre, drop in for the homeless. As Angie had invited me in to look around, I went in.

I got chatting to Sue. She told me that¬†I could get lunch here for ¬£1.30, stew and mash and peas, and another course, soup or a pudding, for an extra 20p. She asked me if I have any brothers or sisters, and if I have a husband, boyfriend or children. “I prefer women”, I said. I see no reason not to be Out about this. No, I have no partner at the moment. Nor has she. “You can get cake over there”, she said. “It is free…. You can get a hot drink”. Actually, I did not want cake or coffee. I have just had a coffee- possibly I should have taken it, eating together is a way of bonding, possibly I was too shy to bond.

Sue ploughed on with the conversation. Do I watch Strictly? Dancing on Ice? Do I watch the soaps? No, actually. What have I watched recently? Borgen, it is a sort of Danish West Wing. I did not mention that, and that was all we had to talk about.

Cheryl is a volunteer here. “Some of the things which are completely obvious to us would not occur to these people”, she told me. One asked her if she should keep the heating on all the time. She said that should not be necessary. They got someone an emergency loan to pay rent, ¬£60 for a room for a week. The person had to go to the jobcentre to pick up the money, and then take it round to the landlord. The jobcentre paid cash. This is stupid: people with addiction problems, the money does not get to the landlord. The jobcentre say that is the system, they cannot¬†write a cheque. Cheryl talks to people here. Some of them play pool, sometimes there is Bingo. There is one small shelf of tins for sale, a few clothes, and- pot plants. “Do you know what to do with those beans? Soak them overnight, you can put them in stews,” she tells a customer. She does not work in the kitchen, she would need a hygiene certificate.

Actually, I like the atmosphere. It is completely friendly, though I have no desire to volunteer there. I was not the only posh person looking in: there are pupils from the fee-paying school, going to raise money. Last year they raised £2000. There is a support worker who does forms for people, the literacy standard is not high. There are notes of available jobs, from the jobcentre.

That part of the town is marked for development, so they may lose the centre on three months’ notice. Funding from the county is dried up, there is a bit of funding from the district, but that goes on the rent. They need a town centre place, these people will not walk up the estate, says the chairman. They get a little from the health service, because they do work with people with mental health issues, but for that sort of funding you have to jump through their hoops. He wants to get completely independent from public funds, they had a large grant from Lloyds TSB.

The little people

Inequality in the UK declined steadily from 1918 until the late 70s, and since then has climbed, under Tory and Labour governments, until it is approaching 1918 levels. Having said that, the 1% are a large group, 600,000 people in the UK, and their income goes down to £120,000 a year. I have socialised with some. Some are friends of friends. Above £120,000, incomes and wealth shoot upwards exponentially.

When I consider the Leveson inquiry, it is striking that commentary and rhetoric I read come at the issue from the interests of the Powerful against the Little People. The Press should be regulated, because they are in the ownership of the Multinational Super-rich, like Rupert Murdoch. Or, they should be left unregulated,¬†because they investigate what the Wealthy want to keep private, in the interests of the Plain Man. The Sun reports that the Ministry of Defence has spent ¬£7,440 on medical treatment ancillary to gender reassignment in the last thirty months, (nod to Jane Fae). Their line is that blundering civil servants are spending money badly, and that trannies are ridiculous, our “sex swaps” fake, rather than that the MoD has spent sensibly, in order to retain the services of valuable employees. They claim a decisive influence in our elections. It seems to me that the “Little people”- ie, me- will lose out whatever Leveson does. And while Captain Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia¬†has done dishonourable things, I dislike the focus of the media- BBC as well as the Murdoch press- on him rather than on the corporate culture and structures, or perhaps the sheer bad luck and accumulating circumstances,¬†behind those deaths. I distrust journalists picking on the easy targets.

In other ways I am incredibly prosperous and powerful, compared say to those maimed by American mines in Cambodia, or choking on the fumes of the Chinese factories which produce the consumer goods I buy. If the 1% is not the 600,000 in the UK, but the seventy million in the World as a whole, I have far more affinity, resemblance, and commonality of interests to that group, or the lower half of it, than to the bottom billion.

While I may have that affinity, not everyone in the UK has. Worship on Sunday was interrupted by a homeless man. B. gave him a mug of coffee and listened to him, but did not have one herself or invite him to sit down. He had walked seven miles from the night shelter, which is always full. He had slept outside and had a sleeping bag, clothes and the mobile phone his brother gave him to keep in touch stolen, he said. His former girlfriend will not put him up, but does allow him to launder his clothes at her house. There is no night shelter in our town, so people have to go sixteen miles, and cannot afford transport.

I spoke to a few people, and none of us have seen beggars in our town. One Social Services department I came across wanted to shut down the charity soup runs in the city centre. They said such services made homelessness bearable, and so prevented people from using services to get out of that situation. Perhaps the lack of services here drives the homeless elsewhere.

We do have a day centre for vulnerable homeless people (are there any other kind?). Angela is going to do a sponsored sleep-out this month, and they have got funding from Lloyds-TSB bank for three years, corporate funding in this isolated case replacing the funding the government is cutting. They do hot lunches, provide showers, and people drop in to socialise. They are open four days a week.

Despite the cuts, the Government is borrowing for public spending in a downturn, classic Keynesianism. The percentage of GDP they would spend is only very slightly different from the percentage in the plans of the Opposition.