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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Black

Is it time that Housing had another 'Cathy Come Home' Moment?

Over the past few weeks, I have been struck by the power of TV dramas on issues of the day. The excellent 'Mr Bates vs The Post Office' provided a very gripping dramatisation of the Post Office Horizon scandal and so powerful was its portrayal that it even brought about a rapid shift in government position over sub postmaster convictions (even thought the government said it was nothing to do with it). Equally, the drama 'Breathtaking' gave a heartbreaking view of the pandemic from the front line.

While watching them, I was thinking that surely it must be time for a drama based on the housing crisis. But then I remembered, there already is one. It's now nearly 60 years since the release of 'Cathy Come Home' which was a BBC television play about homelessness directed by Ken Loach.

For those who haven't seen it, the story focuses on a young couple. The Eponymous Cathy and her husband Reg. Cathy leaves her overcrowded rural home to find fortune in the city and meets Reg who is a well paid lorry driver and they quickly marry and rent a modern flat (which doesn't allow children). Cathy becomes pregnant, Reg gets injured in accident and can't work, and they quickly have to leave their flat. What happens next is grim. Very grim. They move first into sharing with Reg's mother, but they fall out and leave, then into a family friends house who dies. Their new landlord takes them to court and has them evicted in a scene which is depressingly familiar in the UK to this day, as no fault evictions continue aplomb. They then end up in a caravan site which gets torched by local residents who object to the camp. After squatting in various places, Cathy and her children end up in a homeless shelter and then evicted from that after her frustrations with the squalid conditions boil over. Eventually, a homeless Cathy has her children taken away by social services. There is no happy ending, no knight in shining armour.

The amazing thing about Cathy Come Home is how depressingly and upsettingly relevant it is today. Whilst the black and white scenes of the film seem like a distant relic, the narrative of Cathy and her children is still the reality for many 60 years later. The film certainly had a deep impact at the time. By coincidence, the charity Shelter was launched just days after the film was released and the charity Crisis the year after.

Much like the story of the film, the statistics 60 years on are more than upsetting. Shelter reports that this winter 139,000 children do not have a place that they can truly call home. 172 families are served a section 21 (no fault) eviction notice every day. The Renters Reform Bill designed to stop this has been on the parliamentary agenda for two years now (in which time thousands of families will have had their homes taken away through such evictions). Gove has said the bill will be enacted by the end of this parliament but he is running out of time and it is still being fought over by many in this government. Just this week, Jacob Rees-Mogg used his GB News platform (which I shall henceforth call GBeebies) to suggest the bill was a 'Socialist Error'.

Just today, the bbc reports that Crawley Council has suggested it may need to declare a 'Housing Emergency' at its forthcoming council meeting. 2,796 applications had been made for 243 available housing units in the last eight months. It's costs for temporary accommodation had risen twelve fold over the past five years to £5.7m

In the case of the post office and covid dramas there is at least some relief that these awful events are over and perhaps there is a good outcome in at least some ways for those involved. But with housing things are not getting better. They are getting worse. Shelter reports that 33% more people sleep rough that ten years ago. 250,000 social or rented homes were sold or demolished in the last decade. Crisis reports that an estimated 3,069 people sleep rough on a single night in England alone. What do our government do about it? Try and criminalise it through the Criminal Justice Bill.

To even think about an updated Cathy Come Home film, I'm not even sure where to start. It would take some story writing through the tangled and complicated web that our housing market and system that has evolved in the last 60 years. A new drama would have to take place not over just a year or so but decades in order to reveal the true level of chronic under investment and maladministration of housing in this country. It's an often trotted out statistic, but the fact that we have had sixteen housing ministers since 2010 says something about where the government puts this in its overall priority list. Front and centre of Sunak's five priorities should have been 'solve the housing crisis'. But he didn't. Because he can't. Not in the time he has left anyway. Sunak, Gove, and others must have surely realised now that after 14 years of Tory administration (and in no way saying this is wholly a Tory problem here), the housing market for many in this country is........... (and I make no apologies for the vernacular here).....Fucked!

So my friends your homework this weekend is as follows. If you haven't watched Cathy Come Home, watch it. It's £3 on amazon prime. I imagine most reading this blog will be lucky enough like me to have a safe and secure home. Just take one minute of gratitude for that and spare a thought for those who do not. There but for the grace of god go I.

In this election year, all parties have an absolute moral duty to set out how they will fix our housing crisis in their manifestos. I really hope that the housing crisis is a key issue on which this next government is elected on and manages to resolve.

Much Love



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