Archive article from The Socialist Issue 427
40 years after 'Cathy Come Home':
The housing scandal
JEREMY SANDFORD'S drama, Cathy Come Home, about a young family who slide into homelessness and poverty was a defining moment in 1960s television, demonstrating how far drama could influence the political agenda.
Karl Cross, Leicester
BBC1 screened it in 1966, within the regular Wednesday Play slot, as a 'drama-documentary' concerning homelessness and its effect upon families, directed by Ken Loach. It has subsequently been released on DVD.
The success of Cathy Come Home established Loach as a politically committed filmmaker standing apart from the commercial mainstream. Only a few years after Harold Macmillan pompously declared to the British nation: "You've never had it so good", Loach chokes the government by ramming these words down its throat.
While the nation was basking in the glory of England's 1966 World Cup success, 4,000 kids were being separated from their families and bundled into care because their parents were homeless.
The play follows young lovers Cathy and Reg from the optimism of their early married days through a spiral of misfortune that follows Reg's accident at work, leading to eviction and separation.
The film culminates in what remains one of television's most memorable scenes - a hysterical Cathy has her children forcibly taken away by Social Services.
The controversy generated by Cathy Come Home led to public outrage at the state of housing in Britain. Its impact was unprecedented, eliciting widespread censure and enquiries in the Houses of Parliament.
In the same month it was broadcast, the housing charity Shelter was launched.
The programme has become a British TV classic, regularly referred to by critics and researchers as well as by programme-makers themselves. This is partly due to the quality of the script, direction and acting, but also the way the film mixed dramatic with documentary material and showed the power of television in highlighting social problems.
It just goes to show that for tens of thousands, the 1960s were a distant cry from sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.
Making money for the developers
THE GOVERNMENT'S housing renewal programme has come under fire for spending £168 million on private consultants - enough money to renovate 8,000 homes, after the housing market renewal scheme was set up in 2002 to deal with empty and derelict housing in nine areas.
Alan Holdway, Stoke-on-Trent
Almost 7,000 homes are currently empty across North Staffordshire, with one in 10 homes currently unoccupied in central areas. Renew North Staffordshire - the group charged with overseeing the £2.3 billion regeneration of housing stock in Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle - said plans developed for the region were supported by residents.
Yet the scheme focused on demolition rather than renovation, when a lot of these areas could do with doing up and a lot of good houses just need a bit of modernising. A new report from the Save Britain's Heritage conservation group strongly condemns the regeneration scheme. The report also criticises John Prescott for allowing developers, consultants, and social landlords to benefit at the expense of residents.
Residents say the housing schemes are about making money for the developers, they're not really looking after people who live in the homes. They plan to build a mixture of private and social housing that will be too expensive for local residents and will not solve the housing problem in North Staffordshire.
Homelessness in 2006
Today, constant cuts and sell-offs of housing and housing services are still creating a catastrophe for some of Britain's most vulnerable people. One young father in Manchester told the socialist about his family's experience.
THREE YEARS ago, me and my partner went to the town hall Homeless Families office, to get accommodation for ourselves and our child. The council said they couldn't help us and we had to go to Direct Access (DA) - a hostel and service for homeless men, who sent us back to the town hall!
Eventually the town hall said we were on the register and it would be four weeks to get a property. After four weeks they said we'd been knocked off the register because they'd had "no contact with us" - even though they'd got the phone numbers for the hostels we'd been separated into. We were split up into men and women's hostels, so we couldn't even claim family benefit.
Hostels for women all seem to be Catholic-run. The men's hostels I've stayed in have been council or Christian-run. After two-four days, if you're not there every night before curfew they kick you out and say you're not homeless any more. The first hostel I was in had no control over the residents, I was terrorised and nothing was done about it.
The second one was OK, as was the third until a new manager came in and it all went downhill, with staff losing their jobs and residents losing places. The last Catholic hostel my girlfriend stayed in locked her in and wouldn't let her see me. They even took our three-week child off her, saying she was "too gentle"!
After knocking us off the register, the council said we'd have to reapply for a homelessness assessment. We had the assessment and the council said again it'd be four weeks before we got a property. After less than four weeks, I phoned Homeless Families - they said we weren't on the list and didn't know why we were ringing up! They told us to go back to DA because the council couldn't help us...
From DA to the town hall and back again. The council said they didn't have to do anything more, they didn't show us the housing newsletters that would have given us details of accommodation we could apply for.
They promised to put us on housing association (HA) lists but never did - by law they're supposed to give us a list of HAs but never did.
We went in every Friday for two years, every time we got told a different story and just got passed back and to, back and to. The only person who tried to help us was sacked!
Why is it like this? There were different staff every day, temps, there's just not enough staff to do the job properly. There's not enough council houses to put people in so they fob you off every time and try to kick you away.
The weaker they think you are, the more they try to get rid of you. We need a better service for homeless people. We need less people turned away with the council just saying, "you made yourself intentionally homeless," whether or not that's the case.
Two months ago we went back after getting a court order against the council. Our solicitor wrote to the town hall saying the order meant the council have to help us get accommodation. We had to go in for another homelessness assessment, got moved into a hotel that night and then four days later we got moved into a flat.
The only reason the council moved us from the hotel is because it was costing them more money! We're still in temporary accommodation, we should've been moved already to permanent accommodation but it's been four weeks and we're still waiting.