Unstable but standing firm

by Caitlin


It the last day of the first month of the year. What a perilous time of enormous change. And yet, here I am, tucked up inside my Blue van, parked on a quiet street, at the Bottom of Bower Ashton. While the world spins into disarray around me, I’m not content with a single life, but in fact appear to live three.

However, in the bigger scheme of things to think about, this fragmented yet fertile world appears diminutive. I am preoccupied with mapping out the Whitehouse staff, and thinking about all the housing papers I’m yet to read, to situate my interest in UK housing security. On that note, I must make a note to read the housing news feed daily to keep up to date with current issues. In my mind the housing struggle is all part of the same anti austerity drive that is sweeping through the UK, and as headlines read today, making UK the poorest and most economically vulnerable since Thatcher’s rule.

Donald Trump is a beast with a brain half intact and the other half shrivelled under the glare of his self-importance. Banning entrance to the US for people from seven majority Muslim countries; Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Airports have been thrown into disarray and he appears to have given short notice to airport staff. At the same time he prioritises care of Christian refugees. What we are seeing here is a broad daylight arrival of ethnic and religious preference at the great expense of people, and many of the most vulnerable. Charity, compassion and humanitarian principles appear to have been shoved off the cliff of moral consideration. I also feel that this political force may well be a sleight of hand that conceals even greater misgivings.

Meanwhile, I continue to look into experience of home and housing security in the UK today. It strikes me how hard it is to live now, how basic needs such as housing security and job security are far and few between, and that the cost of living is rapidly inflating while wages stagnate. According to IFS director Paul Johnson, Britons are due to have suffered more than a decade of flat-lining real earnings growth, with real wages still below their pre-crisis peak in 2021. (Financial Times, 2016).

British workers aged between 22 and 30 are the only UK demographic to have seen their real incomes shrink from 2007 onwards, with the IFS showing median wages have fallen 7 per cent in the seven years after the financial crisis. Still, those of us on decent incomes without the bank of mum and dad have no chance of owning our own houses, and while the private rental market gauges out our monthly earnings, social housing is at an all time low.

By contrast, the over-60s have had a much better time of it, with their incomes rising 11 per cent over the period. Overall however, working age incomes have been flat between 2007 and 2014 – a development the IFS has previously described as “highly unusual”.

In addition, stagnating wages and a cut in welfare provisions, is likely to see the lowest earners hit hardest. According to the IFS, benefits are likely to take a hit of 6% in 2017. In July 2016 it was widely reported that UK wages had dropped by 10%. Just yesterday The Resolution Foundation published that the current parliament would be the worst for living standards for the poorest half of households since comparable records began in the mid-1960s and the worst since the early years of Thatcher’s 1979-90 premiership for inequality.

So what can we do? Get political, get together. If you’re not in a union, join one. If you think temporary short-term contracts are great opportunities; think again. Lobby, sign petitions, visit your MP’s, do some research into your workers rights. The work –place is where many of us go everyday, and as Stuart Hall liked to say culture is the “critical site of social action and intervention, where power relations are both established and potentially unsettled”. Know your rights, and assert them at a local, regional and national level. Now is the time to education, organise and support each other. It feels so dark, but we must not surrender to moral aberration and bad ideas.