Saturday, 19 April 2014

Hidden reality

From: Inside edge

If you missed Britain’s Hidden Homeless last night it’s well worth making time to catch on iPlayer.

The BBC documentary was presented by Speech Debelle, the Mercury-prize winning rapper with personal experience of what she was talking about. She spent three years sofa surfing and in hostels after falling out with her mum at 19 and wrote the opening song of what went on to be her prize-winning first album while in a hostel.

So this was far more than the standard celeb-fronted BBC3 documentary. You believed her when she said that hidden homelessness is three times bigger than the official figures suggest and that things are worse now than they were for her ten years ago.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01jhxpg/Britains_Hidden_Homeless/

Scheduling it against 56Up, the latest incarnation of the original reality TV programme, did not do it any favours but Britain’s Hidden Homeless more than justified itself in that kind of company as it presented four interwoven personal stories on the huge continuum from first staying on a friend’s sofa to sleeping in the park.

Sam, 25, was an unemployed graduate whose mother had to downsize who was running out of sofas. Stephen, 26, had been in and out of homelessness since his mum fell out with his stepdad and had spent seven months sleeping rough. Jordan, 20, had been sofa-surfing and sleeping rough (or as he put it, walking around) for four years after falling out with his family. Nikita, 18, left home at 16 after her recovering alcoholic mother moved in with a new boyfriend and was sleeping on her sister’s sofa.

So there were four personal stories that are probably repeated tens of thousands of times around the country. By definition nobody knows how many hidden homeless there really are but instinct suggests that with every other form of housing problem, from sharing and overcrowding to official homelessness and families in bed and breakfast, on the increase it must be too.

The programme avoided sensationalism and showed the grinding monotony of what it’s like to go from place to place and never having one to call home. It showed the good side of housing too, with the organisations and people prepared to help, and a genuinely moving final scene where Stephen finds a six-month tenancy and the luxury of his own backdoor. And it hinted at the way that cuts in housing benefit and support to those organisations are making things worse.

Above all though it left me wondering what will happen if the welfare-cutting ultras get their way on even more cuts in benefits for the under-25s.

Readers' comments (7)

  • These sort of programmes are what's needed to highlight the problems about to hit us all collectively. Of course anyone under 35 will have no chance to get their own "back door" in the future as they will only have access to a shared room. This combined with SP cuts for homeless services and B&B increasing we're only at the start - let's hope for a Pasty tax U turn....

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  • Melvin Bone

    Seriousley the Pasty Tax victory has shown that the ConDems will change policy when confironted with evidence/information to back up the change.

    Maybe the housing sector has something to learn here...

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  • Rick Campbell

    I think the Pasty Tax has been ditched because those good but impoverished folks in Parliament rely on such foodstuffs as their staple diet as they cannot survive on the meagre amounts that their career attracts unlike those on benefits who are living 'the life of Reilly'.

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  • Isn't it more likely that the large business interests involved in producing pasties and baked goods had more influence than the social rented housing sector, which is an ideological anathema to this government.

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  • Melvin Bone

    Hardly Nonnymous. I think you'll find the outcry was at a lower level with people harrasing their MPs.

    Rick who is this Reilly chap? He needs to be taxed...

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  • Rick Campbell

    This particular Reilly is a rich chap and as such will be given tax breaks (if he's taxed at all) Melvin.

    He possibly owns a supermarket where he can get employees on work-enforcement to slave away for jigger all?

    "Every little subjugation helps" is his company motto, allegedly.

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  • I watched it on iPlayer. I didn’t find it very illuminating. There seemed to be a lot missing from each story, and some basic questions that should have been asked but never were.
    Sam, 25, could have got a minimum wage job, but chose not to because she wanted to remain claiming JSA until she found a job in her chosen career (the music industry).
    Jordan, 20, was offered accommodation but did not turn up to the meeting to arrange it because “I didn t want to live somewhere where I had to be in at a certain time… it was too much like living with my parents”.
    Nikita, 18, needed somewhere to live and was given a room at the YMCA.
    Stephen, 26, was unable to get a home or a job “because I’ve got a serious ear infection”. What?
    Re: one of the girls, I forget which one, we were told that her mother “is claiming housing benefit so is not allowed to have anyone to stay”.
    Speech Debelle herself apparently was homeless because she was so badly behaved her mum got annoyed and they started arguing, so she moved out (to be fair, if my parents had named me Speech I would have been angry too). When she got tired of living in a hostel she went back home.
    At no point did anyone from the local council get interviewed to explain what the options were for these people, or what the process was. Instead we were told things like ‘The council doesn’t see people as a priority unless they have a baby’ and “The council told me there would be temporary accommodation for me when my current accommodation runs out, but I’m not sure if there will be”.

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