England, Brazil and me

The four-yearly cycle of hope and disappointment is complete. England’s early departure from yet another World Cup got me thinking about how much things have changed since the first one I can remember.

Everyone who loves football has one World Cup that seems frozen in time. For me it’s 1970. I was six years old when England won in 1966, old enough to realise that something important was happening but not quite old enough to realise what it was. West Germany 1974 and Argentina 1978 were memorable but by then I was a bit more cynical and England failed to qualify for both of them. To the ten-year-old me, though, Mexico 1970 was a thing of wonder, an almost impossibly exotic version of the game I played with my friends in the school playground.

Some of this is to do with age. As with David Hemery and Mary Peters winning gold at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 or Neil Armstrong landing on the Moon in 1969, it happened when I was old enough to appreciate what was happening but young enough to be seeing it for the first time. Add weeks collecting stickers for my Soccer Stars Album and I was hooked:

SS cover

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Making the case

Why do we need social housing? The answer may seem obvious on this website but too often elsewhere the one you’ll get is ‘we don’t’.

It’s a theme I’ve blogged about repeatedly over the last few years as social housing has been eroded from within and overtaken from without by the relentless rise of private renting. As coalition ministers never cease to remind us, the sector shrank by 420,000 in England under the last Labour government, but their own policies are merely accelerating the decline while they blur the distinction between affordable and social.

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Adjust your set

In case you missed it, How to Get a Council House is back – and so is the controversy about TV stereotypes and the hashtag on twitter.

The second series of the Channel 4 show focuses on the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and people affected by the benefit cap (two weeks ago), applying as homeless (last week) and in temporary accommodation (this week).

As with the first series, it’s provoked some strong reactions and it almost feels like we are in two different countries when I look on twitter.

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Seen and heard: Dispatches on the bedroom tax

Five things struck me watching the Dispatches documentary on the bedroom tax on Channel 4 last night.

First, it’s impossible for anyone to cover all the issues and angles in half an hour. That’s not a criticism of Channel 4 at all, more a comment on the complexity of the implications of the bedroom tax and the way that the effects vary around the country. I must have written thousands of words on the subject over the last two years and invariably have to cut something important or leave an angle untouched.

It sounds like lots of material ended up on the cutting room floor for last night’s programme too but, within the time allowed, it did a very good job of presenting the issue from the point of view of under-occupying tenants, social landlords and local authorities. We heard from Iain Sim of Coast and Country Housing on its 150 per cent increase in voids since April 2013 and a couple who were both in wheelchairs who face the bedroom tax on the ‘spare’ room in their specially adapted flat yet were denied a discretionary housing payment. The programme was also balanced enough to include two overcrowded families who have benefitted from larger homes being freed up.

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Benefits Street, The Spongers and welfare reality

This week’s final episode of Benefits Street made me go back and rewatch another programme with a provocative title about life on social security.

I was 17 when The Spongers was first transmitted in January 1978 and I still remember it as the single most stunning and harrowing piece of television I have ever seen. The 90-minute programme was a Play for Today – the famous series of one-off dramas that ran on the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s – and tells the story of Pauline, a single mother from a council estate near Manchester. It opens with the bailiffs arriving to seize her furniture because she is in rent arrears and upsetting her eldest daughter, Paula, who has Down’s Syndrome. That’s swiftly followed by a scene outside where workers are erecting giant heads of the Queen and Prince Philip ready for the Silver Jubilee celebrations. Cue the opening titles. You can watch it here:

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