I doubt very much if he will recall it, but I met Jon Snow in 1973 when I organised a
conference on homelessness in London’s West End on behalf of Voluntary Action Westminster and he was the main guest speaker. Jon worked at New Horizon Youth Centre but he was already a stunningly charismatic and committed man. I understand
he has kept in touch with New Horizon ever since. I have only come across him once since, when he devoted almost the entire Channel 4 News to a brilliant analysis of the Westminster Auditor’s guilty verdict on Dame Shirley Porter’s gerrymandering.
On the basis of these two little episodes I have taken it as read that he had a feel for housing issues as they affect people at the very sharp end. He himself says that what he saw of poverty and homelessness in the West End in the 1970s has informed his life ever since.
Jon has now revisited the bad end of the housing market for a Dispatches programme which airs next Monday. He calls it ‘a shocking eye opener’.
On his blog, Jon says;
This month I have spent hours in flats and houses in which you would not leave a dog for an hour. I have smelt the dank fungi that leaches its way across the walls of a two-bedroom flat in Rochdale and wandered between rows of garden sheds to the West of London in which rafts of men live two, three, and four, to a shed. At night you hear the voices in the dark, see the chinks of light through the boards, hear the clank of cooking pots as they prepare supper at the end of a working day.
It perplexes me that society can be so consumed with the state of education and health provision in Britain, and yet turn so active a blind eye to the true state of where people actually live.
At a time when it seems to be increasingly acceptable to blame the poor for their poverty and the homeless for their homelessness, and politicians line up to talk about housing benefit as if everyone was getting tens of thousands of pounds to live in luxury, the programme will show what life is really like at the bottom of the housing market in the worst of the private rented sector.
It is, says Jon, ‘a shocking and upsetting watch’. And as the government rips the homelessness safety net to shreds and cuts housing benefit to the bone, lets hope it makes them feel just a little embarrassed.