How do people live in London? How do they afford it, let alone tolerate the conditions? More to the point, how do claimants find a place, and what do they do when they can’t? I lived there a long time ago, and had trouble with finding not just a home I could afford, but a place close to work, and friends. I found it daunting at first, and then impossible, so I left.
Nowadays, it’s worse. Poorer tenants go to extraordinary lengths to pay ridiculously inflated rents, enduring insecurity and cramped spaces, taking several jobs in different travel zones, which is costly and time-consuming.
It’s this bad – this is how people manage to survive, desperate to stay in London and the south as that’s where the jobs are. There are extremes, like temporary-into-permanent sofa-surfing. Or sleeping in parks or bus stations - even on the night bus when things go badly wrong. All of these examples are real and happened to friends, acquaintances or correspondents.
One friend stayed in a converted garage. I say converted – I mean there was a bed and shelves. It was cold, and what was intended to be an emergency measure lasted for almost one year, with her belongings damp and infested with mice. Lovely. But better than the streets.
Another slept surreptitiously in their work studio, which was cheaper than hostels. But he lived in a constant state of anxiety, afraid of being discovered.
Others sleep in kitchens and walk-in cupboards, even to the extent they are sublet and actual rent is paid – for living in a cupboard.
Some live in rooms divided with temporary cardboard partitions, scared that the owner or agent will visit and evict them.
Then there’s two people sharing a bed when on shift work – one during the day, the other at night. I don’t have to explain why this is infantilising, demeaning and dehumanising, do I?
Some stay with partners, returning home to parents at weekends. Doesn’t sound that bad, but it’s the sense of transience – of living like a child under precarious security, of having no refuge, which is what a home should be.
I’ve heard of people working in London, but keeping their home at the other of the country and commuting back, which is exhausting and destroys relationships.
Then there’s sharing bed all the time, when not in a couple. Imagine no privacy or your own space, at first convincing yourself that this it’s short-term ‘…just until we’ve saved enough to buy,’ or even – and this is shocking – saving enough for the deposit required to rent.
Try living in an HMO (house in multiple occupation) full of couples, all too poor for one-bed flats, using one tiny kitchen with a punitive roster for cooking time and the bathroom, where the lounge is used as another bedroom.
Worse perhaps is a combination of all the above, with possessions stored in lockers at coach stations and storage centres.
This happens. Moving to London seems like a great adventure, and these measures might seem exciting, but when they go on for months – even years, it’s not living, it’s existing. The answer is rent controls and more building. And better pay. And…