In January, Tory prime minister David Cameron announced the government would bulldoze many council estates – so-called sink estates – to eradicate ‘anti-social behaviour’, ‘bad parenting’ and a ‘low quality of life’. Cameron’s moral crusade is a distraction. He intends to destroy more council housing, replaced with unaffordable privately rented homes. Barnsley council house tenant Karen Fletcher challenges his caricature and explains what life on her estate is really like.
I moved into my council estate after a private landlord decided he wanted my home for a member of his family.
The estate had its problems. It was the 1980s. Then, as now, we had a capitalist, right-wing Tory government. Steelworks were closing, the miners’ strike was very recent and painful history and the glass industry was in trouble; these were the main employers.
By the early 1990s the pit closure programme was in full swing and life for my neighbours had become one of daily survival.
When the population is either living entirely on benefits or constantly shifting from short contract to short contract, to benefits, it’s a hand to mouth existence. People were depressed, demoralised and trapped.
Today, the situation is not greatly different. People are still reliant upon fixed contracts, they are still reliant upon two wages coming in to survive. They now have the additional pressures of zero-hour contracts and the brutality of benefit cuts and sanctions.
It was also a time of change for how the council ran its housing services. The management was put out to tender to be run by an Arms Length Management Organisation. This gave us refurbished homes and gardens. Only later did tenants realise that the pay-off was that effectively there was no accountability.
If you had a problem you spoke to your councillor and it got sorted out. Now the best response you’ll get is to be told that “I have no power, they won’t listen to me”. It wasn’t much of a deal.
Government policy could have made life better, but it has deliberately set out to introduce legislation that has made life worse.
We have streets where the children can play safely. We have schools close enough that the school run is superfluous; we do not believe that you have to have children brought up by nannies and then sent to schools miles away and raised by strangers. We do not wish to see our neighbours sink while we rise.
The quality of life we enjoy does not come from owning multiple houses; holidaying in the latest ‘fashionable’ resort; spending thousands sending our children to the ‘right’ schools and universities; or using expense accounts to buy a £30 breakfast.
Our quality of life comes from the fact that our children play together in the street; that they can safely walk to school; that local schools work for all children.
Within easy walking distance of my home are four parks, two heritage villages, several country parks, a leisure centre and some of the most beautiful countryside you will ever see. I am inordinately proud of my neighbours and my adopted village.
The public sector is being destroyed by people who have invested heavily in the buy to rent sector. Some think that private landlords should not have a legal responsibility to provide safe decent housing, but should have their rent and mortgages paid for them by us.
This is where the system fails. It fails because it does not understand us. We are all proud of our homes, we put a lot of time and effort into them. It does not matter that we do not own the property we live in. It is still my home.