‘Neigbourhood Watched’ on the BBC seems to be achieving cult status, ‘The Wire’ without the guns (and without the Americans). Although I’m not sure whether I’m more disturbed by Michelle and Laura, two of the ‘stars’ of the last episode, or some of the twits who tweeted about it.
It is refreshing to have a programme about the work and challenges facing housing officers. They came across as caring and business-like, offering the families chances to change but then being decisive when the chances were spurned. The focus of the programme on anti-social behaviour may have given a distorted view of what housing officers do, but it demonstrated that it is a serious blight in many neighbourhoods and can ruin an estate. For a family to nickname a small child ‘asbo’ is pretty disgusting. I may have missed it but the one weakness in the approach was that I can’t recall any reference to Children’s Services being made. The families will live somewhere when they are evicted, the children will still be there, things may get worse not better, and there are no housing officers paying attention in the private rented sector.
Most of us go into housing because of Bill and Elsie and have to put up with Michelle and Laura. After a good life bringing up their children in their council home (the distinction between the council and the housing association seemed irrelevant to them) all they wanted was a sheltered flat with no stairs as they approached their 80s in declining health. The housing officers knew the house would be in high demand for a family but it was touch and go whether they would qualify for a sheltered flat. How crazy is that? But their story demonstrated the huge significance of a decent affordable home to the quality of life of ordinary decent people – and in my experience they are far more representative of social housing tenants than the stereotypical spongers we read about everyday.
I expect the programme is available on BBC i-player if anyone missed it. I hope there are more Bills and Elsies in the rest of series. They make the struggle worthwhile – for resources, for more affordable homes, and for decent treatment of tenants as human beings not chess pieces to be moved around the board every year or two.