If I could have I would have included the wonderfully charismatic front cover, from one of the many biographies about Margaret Thatcher, lets say ‘Margaret Thatcher – Power & Personality’. Funny how if you have power you’re allowed to have a charismatic personality. The front cover has no families in it, no young people in it, it has no homeless families or homeless young people in it, just the deceased former prime minister, garbed in a power suit, and wearing a lot of expensive jewellery, exuding apparently the potent odour of power and personality.
I think about the homeless people finding themselves obliged to sleep at the Bournemouth Bus Station who have been stopped from doing so, not by a polite request from a police officer to simply move on, but by the contemptuous, spiteful, piping of bagpipe music through the bus station’s tannoy. The music is apparently an attempt to thwart anti-social behaviour at the bus depot. In short, powerless and homeless people are apparently demonstrating a form of criminal behaviour, which can best be resolved by streaming loud music over them, to keep them from being able to find a precarious place of rest.
There is language to describe the behaviour of a gang of powerful managerial staff who, having travelled from a warm, safe, home to work each day, sat down at a meeting and came to this decision. There is language, but it wastes time and emotional energy using it. Homelessness apparently is a complicated issue, but the policies that have helped to create homelessness are about as complicated as the values behind them.
Look at the powerful lady whose personality helmed the introduction of the housing policy that ate up England’s public stock of ‘Homes for Heroes’. In this picture she’s sitting with an ‘aspiring family’. Please note, this picture does include young people, oh and a council house which had no doubt been purchased by the family posing in the photograph, and may well have been subject to negative equity once the initial recession (the first one in my living memory) hit.
What constituted an aspiring family in the 1980s, you may well be asking, well, a family in the middle-class professions, or into entering them, because at that time they still paid well. A family willing to invest in public share offerings, because at that time the privatisation of public companies, in a way which benefited the general public, paid off. A family willing to reward with their loyal votes a government that appeared to be investing in their future by giving them the right to buy their home, the right to strike or not as they chose, and the right to have a slice of the profits that came from privatising national companies.
Would what constituted an aspiring family in the 1980s still constitute one today? With the erosion of the status of nurses, doctors, teachers and lawyers and grass roots industrialists you’d think no. With the appalling state of the railway service, the NHS, the fall in the number of libraries nationally, the upsurge in sanctioning the unemployed, the suicides of those denied disability benefits and the looming obliteration of family credit, you’d think emphatically no, and yet here we are with yet another Conservative government.
Another picture of Margaret Thatcher standing in front of half of the British flag, these days I’d take that to be the half that is in stable employment, paid a decent wage, can still afford to both eat and pay the mortgage, and doesn’t face the prospect of travelling miles away from their local (residential) connection, in order to find or not find some work and no housing. The half of the flag she’s standing in front of probably doesn’t encompass those who through no fault of their own have wound up homeless (mental health, domestic violence, child abuse victims) either. It would encompass those who still own the homes they had the right to buy or have sold them for a handy profit, and the councillors who endorsed wholeheartedly the policy that will have had future councillors treating the homeless they haven’t built homes and have no intention of building homes for, as ‘criminals’ and bag-piping them on their way.