Discomforting shades of Dickens – from At Home with Mark

Sometimes – doing this job – it could be easy to slip into despair.  Colleagues are afforded an insight into some of the tougher aspects of life many people have to face.  At the same time the revolution in communication means that we are bombarded with figures, thoughts and reports which all too often make grim reading.  Although the methods of communication – e-mail, Twitter, blog – are very much of this age, the messages they contain seem increasingly more appropriate for a different time.  Two examples, which have landed on my laptop this morning, have too much resonance of a Dickens novel for comfort. First, our friends at Shelter published research it jointly commissioned with British Gas about the health of families in private rented accommodation in England.  The survey, carried out by YouGov, found that a tenth of the 4,544 tenants who responded had suffered from ill health during the past year because of the poor state of their home. If that wasn’t bad enough, more than 200 said their family had been threatened with eviction because they told their landlord they would complain to the local council. And 2% – that’s around 90 families – were actually evicted or served a notice because they had the temerity to ask their landlord to carry out repairs or maintenance on their home. Sadly, the list of grim figures doesn’t stop there. Almost half of the 4,544 tenants said there was mould and nearly as many said there was damp. A fifth of them reported electrical hazards and more than 800 said the places they live in were infested with mice, rats and cockroaches. As Shelter’s chief executive Campbell Robb says: “No family should have to live in a home that puts their health and well-being at risk, let alone face eviction just for asking their landlord to fix a problem. “Yet every day, we hear from parents up and down the country living in fear that damp or gas and electrical hazards are putting their children in danger, but feeling powerless to do anything about it. This has to stop.” Then I read about the latest survey by The Campaign to End Child Poverty.  In most of our major cities – London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Bradford and Leeds – there are areas where more than a third of children live in poverty. Chair of End Child Poverty David Holmes said: “Far too many children whose parents are struggling to make a living are suffering as a result and missing out on the essentials of a decent childhood that all young people should be entitled to. We can and must do better for our children.” In Tower Hamlets in London nearly half the children live in poverty.  But in the neighbouring City of London it’s 16%. There are areas of poverty bordering areas of wealth…shades again of Dickensian London. Of course it would be wrong to say no progress has been made in the 144 years since the great writer died, but if you asked a cross section of the public: a) In which year was it reported that 47% of children lived in poverty in one of our biggest cities? b) When was it legal for landlords to evict tenants for asking for repairs? I suspect the answers would not be 2014. So is it time to despair? No.  There’s a second reading of the Tenancies (Reform) Bill next month which would provide far greater protection for tenants who complain about poor conditions. And the more organisations like Shelter and The Campaign to End Child Poverty highlight inequalities and injustices the tougher it should become for the Government of the day to ignore them. In this case silence isn’t golden.   by Mark Henderson Chief Executive, Home Group