Sunday, 28 November 2010

Walking In The Air

For those of you who do not know me, I have a life outside blogging. By day I am a welder and by nights I am a go-go-dancer*, but in my free-time I write (sometimes about housing.)

Recently an article ran concerning the darkest day of my life: the time I was evicted from my home. Just because I blog doesn’t mean that I allow, or am comfortable with random people having access to my entire life, and so I told a brief version of how this came to be: “… ill-health, undelivered letters (or, I suspect, letters never sent) along with a benefits cock-up, which could happen to anyone.”

The reaction was astonishing. Some misguided experts asserted that because this extended nightmare shouldn’t have happened, it couldn’t have happened. I was curious as to why people were so hostile, until I realised that when people believe that a safety net exists for their own protection, they soon forget that safety nets have holes, and that it is easy to fall between them.

Tenants can never be complacent. For example, when you moved into your house, did you check that that your rent falls within the maximum for Local Housing Allowance, in case if you lost work and were compelled to claim benefits? I bet most people didn’t, and if you are jobless for more than six months, you lose the discretionary payment topping up the difference. You will be obliged to move, but the unwaged are not generally considered dream tenants. Then, under new ConDem plans, you will lose 10% of your housing costs just for being the victim of high unemployment.

If you share a house, what would you do if your flatmate or even your partner simply stopped paying their share of rent? I know of people in this position, without the money to make up the shortfall, now living with a suspended possession order dangling ominously over them.

And what if your rent goes up? What if you don’t get your deposit back, or can’t afford to store or move your belongings? I have written previously about how close we all are to homelessness (roughly two months away, to be honest.)

People are incredibly complacent. It’s bizarre that even in the current economic climate, many persist in imagining that anyone who falls on hard times, losing their home through joblessness or illness must in some way be responsible. But then, adopting such a hard-faced philosophy makes it easier to blame an individual for their own problems.

These people are like The Snowman, flying over the earth, looking down on the pristine, happy, snowy scenes on the ground beneath their feet. In their lovely, shiny world, landlords are perfect, flatmates are amazing, payments arrive promptly and ill-health and disability have been eradicated. Such people are too self-righteous, certain and smug to acknowledge that sometimes, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. To acknowledge occasional incidences of rampant unfairness in the world would mean accepting that it could all too easily happen to them. There but for fate go we all.

*FYI - Flashdance reference…


Neil80 said...

"sometimes, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. To acknowledge occasional incidences of rampant unfairness in the world would mean accepting that it could all too easily happen to them."

And that is EXACTLY why the welfare state came into being after WWII.

Its basic premise was the pooling of risk, of us all taking responsibility for eachother... the original big society.

Problem is that lots of people seem to have forgotten the reasons for the welfare state.

Unfortunately in the next 20 years they will be reminded of them.

Anonymous said...

"To acknowledge occasional incidences of rampant unfairness in the world would mean accepting that it could all too easily happen to them. There but for fate go we all."
I agree with that.
However a) there are people who are needocrats - make themselves needy to get benefits - I know people who just have children with strangers to get benefits - pro single mums (if anyone thinks that is Daily Mail please provide a link - I don't think the Mail uses that term - but please prove me wrong).
b) £22K p.a. is a lot of money for someone to get in housing benefit.
I could never afford that and I have a good job.

RenterGirl said...

Anon - what on earth are you talking about? Firstly do your own damn research and confirm your bigotry. And next up - rents are too high, and wages are too low. It's not inflated benefits with claimants living in luxury. I give you a challenge: live on £68 per week, and eat properly. Idiot.

Anonymous said...

"Firstly do your own damn research and confirm your bigotry.
You obviously did not read my post - I am talking about people I know!
I used to think like you - until I met - real pro single Mums. I am not a Bigot - I just change my views at the facts change.

When I started working it took me years before I could afford to live somewhere half where decent.

But pro single Mums I know got housing that I could only dream of easily.
Even know they live in areas I could never afford (well maybe after the housing benefits changes I will be able to as rents will drop.
Thanks to David and Nick!)

RenterGirl said...

By research I am referring to your instructions for me to check the Daily M***. You have in the past posted comments about 'pro single mums,' and you are not welcome here. This is not a message board. It is not a chat room.

Anonymous said...

"By research I am referring to your instructions for me to check the Daily M***. "
I don't really care what the Daily Mail says about x or y.
I don't believe its approval/disapproval to be killer arguments for/against something. There are people who do.

"This is not a message board. It is not a chat room."
It is a blog. Normally you can make comments on blogs which are on topic.

The ironic thing is that I agree with you that there is a short of housing in the UK. Although my solutions would be different to yours. Certainly I don't think the taxpayer giving unlimited amounts of money to BTL Landlords is the solution, more part of the problem.

HARRY said...

This is another example of argument by anecdote. "I know somebody who...."

The cases you read about in the Daily Mail are exceptions not the rule.

I would type the actual statistics for you to read, but I suspect that you are not interested in facts.

When are the middle-class going to wake up and realise that the Conservative party is not a a political party making policy decisions based on evidence and management science, but a quasi-religious cult, that worships the market for the poor and practices socialism for the banks.

Dara said...

Anon - Can I put this another way to you? The problem is not that the peole you describe are paying too little for housing. the problem is that everyone else is paying too much.

Houses (that is bricks, timbers, glass etc) have never been cheaper yet prices are still sky-high. This, not those in social housing, is where the problem lies.

For the best part of 30 years this country has has a housing bubble and some banks in the great big hole where the economy should have been. For as long as the economy is dependent on sky-high house prices, the same problems will exist. If housing is totally unaffordable privately then people will look to the state.

Let me be clear, I do not always have a great amount of sympathy with Renter Girl, but on this I think she is right. People in social housing are not the problem, problems elsewhere in society are.

RenterGirl said...

Well said Harry and Dazzla. Every now again, no matter what I write, that anonymous clown squeezes in snide comment about what he refers to as pro-single mums. I am sensing he's got baggage... As from now, any of his poorly reasoned, baseless snide asides are going to be deleted. Thanks!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
RenterGirl said...

You're getting on my nerves Anonymous. It's not like I didn't warn you. if you want the 'free-speech' you mentioned, start your own blog.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

PS delete if you like I won't come back here anyway.

MM said...

Renter Girl - I agree with you and your views on The Welfare State or lack thereof. I recently shouted myself hoarse trying to convince a friend that his belief that 'benefits should be scrapped and the poor should depend on charitable contributions from the wealthy' [no, really] was... unsound.

But I also know someone who has kids, and has fostered/adopted more kids purely in order not to have to work, to max out her benefits. She still has a huge house in Islington paid in full by the council.

So it's not really fair to tear strips off Anonymous for pointing this sort of thing out. It's the minority, but it does happen, and you flew off the handle a bit.

RenterGirl said...

This is not a forum. It is not a message board. It is my personal blog. MM - fostering kids is hardly scrounging. Anonymous reads this blog a lot, and comes back every now and again to comment. No matter what the post is about, he/they/it blames our woes solely on 'pro single mums,' and it insists on calling them. And Anonymous: I don't have to refute your arguments. Shut the door as you flounce out. And please don't come back.

HARRY said...

MM - According to the figures from the charity Against Violence and Abuse 70% of women involved in street prostitution were in local authority care at some time. It is also the case that at least half of all street prostitutes have been seriously physically assaulted or worse.

Also according to workers at the charity Kids Company (which works with vulnerable children in London) at least half of all adult prisoners under the age of 25 have been in local authority care.

It is self-evident that if only one of the children your acquiescence is fostering is saved from this truly ghastly fate then the money paid to her by the state will have been well invested.

The money paid to a good foster carer is more than paid back in the long term in savings to the health service and the criminal justice system.

Your post is yet again another example of argument by anecdote "I know someone who..."

I am in a state of almost permanent despair when I look around and see the culture that is taking hold like Japanese knot weed in the society I live in.

Will Hutton put it eleoqnently in his recent book "Them and Us."

"If Britishness once meant a combination of kindness, instinctive liberalism, deference before well-understood social values, belief in fairness, respect for parliamentary democracy, it is dissolving before our eyes. If anything, kindness and liberalism have become objects of scorn."

So foster parents are now added to the list of scroungers is is me or is the world going crazy?

MM said...

Harry & Renter Girl - I wasn't putting forward any 'argument by anecdote'. My real-world attitude, which dictates my actions, is that we need a welfare state supported by taxes on those who can afford it. I support this. Neil80's stance sums up my own.

But I don't think it helps to be completely dogmatic and reject other people's experiences out of hand - which is kind of the feeling I'm getting when you accuse me of apparently adding foster parents to a list of scroungers. Don't generalize on my behalf, please.

Just because I've met some genuine wasters [they exist! -'fostering', in this case involved leaving the upbringing and practical care of the two foster children to her own 13-year-old daughter] and it's influenced how I feel about people, that doesn't become my total 'argument' or credo, and it doesn't necessarily affect my basic attitudes to fair play in society.

Allow me some shades of grey in my thinking, and don't assume they'll dictate my actions.

Renter Girl - sorry, I know this isn't a forum, but wanted to defend my comments rather than be steamrollered.

RenterGirl said...

The view that all claimants are scroungers is now dominant, and has been trumpeted in the right wing press for years now. This has been encouraged by baseless personal anecdotes, atypical and rare examples and has led to a dogma that housing benefit must be cut. Schemes like Inside Track encouraged newbie investors to rake in profit by escalating weekly rents. So can somebody tell me why it's the people with no choice other than live in rented accommodation are paying the price for greedy investors and their profiteering?

HARRY said...

I am so glad that I found your blog. You articulate everything that I have thought for many years about the housing market.

I noticed that Eric Cantona recently proposed that customers withdraw their savings from banks in protest against recent events.

So many people are having eviction proceedings brought against them by BTL landlords that the courts are already getting clogged up.

Just a thought........anyone else thought about a nationwide rent strike?

Anonymous said...

А! Hai completato alcuni buoni punti là. Ho fatto una ricerca sul tema e ha trovato la maggior parte delle persone che avranno la stessa opinione con il tuo blog.

Mr. Wilson said...

first time I came across your blog. Very interesting. Sorry to hear about your house eviction issues.. Hope things are better.
Mr. Wilson

Anonymous said...

Hiya rentergirl, long time reader and lurker.

We have just been served notice on our rented house, 2 days before Christmas. Bah Humbug. This has happened because the buy-to-letters who own the place have split up and need somewhere for one of them to move to. Thankfully we are in the middle of buying a house (years and years of renting and saving!), but it has stalled and if it doesn't go through before the end of Feb I actually don't know what we will do.

Merry Christmas to all my fellow renters, here's to some peace, quiet enjoyment and security for us all.

RenterGirl said...

Sorry that has happened anonymous. Nightmare time to leave. Can you you negotiate a moving date to suit you? It would seem to be the least the owners can do. All the best.

Shoe said...

Good piece and really true. The terms of tenancies in the UK really does owe a lot to the mentality of the late 19th century puritanical capitalist ideal. There really is hardly any safety net at all.

The fact that co-tenants are effectively held ransom to the luck or lack of same of their co-tenants is appalling: one of the reasons I originally started living alone was because I was sick of having to cover the difference in rent between cotenants, or worse still, having to pay the huge bills they ran up and then IOUd me for (being a bank for these acquaintances pushed me so far into an overdraft I eventually really did find myself in difficulty). This isn't fair, I don't see why the law doesn't force landlords to treat tenants sharing a property as individuals instead of permitting them to lump all together and force them to take the losses, which were largely a result of the rotten state of the property and horrendous upstairs neighbours whom the landlord couldn't be bothered evicting (nothing like listening to the guy upstairs giving his girlfriend a good taste of his fist).

I think you hit the nail on the head in a lot of the article. The fantasy world of the ConDems, the Victorian ideal, is of a pure capitalist utopia where wealthy tenants choose to remain footloose and fancy (mortgage) free, moving from one expensive flat to another, while enriching the landlords. In reality, nobody in their right mind who can afford to buy anything at all will live in the almost unregulated world of shabby rented properties, so government steps in and basically simultaneously both dries up the supply of social housing while bringing in a subsidy for very low income tenants.

Hey presto, instant pseudo-"market" for rentals, where tenants are too disempowered to complain and so any old hell hole can be let.

Wayne Kasper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I've been there, rentergirl. My last landlords tried to evict me with violence (even though I had always paid my rent on time - they just wanted it back and didn't want to wait 2 months!). Police were useless - said it was a "civil matter". In the end I convinced the landlord I was going to move out the next day anyway and as soon as they left I changed the locks and got an injunction against them. Renting in this country, you teeter on the brink even if you are a model tenant.