Friday, 28 September 2012


Down to City Edge on Mare Street last Saturday  for the Inspire event.

The building used to be a hub of a community college just across the road from where  the Council benefits office used to be, close to St Joseph’s  Hospice in Mare Street. That’s too many used to be’s in my book, but this is broke UK.  The Hospice is still there, and it has a nice garden. 

City Edge is a conference centre squeezed to the back of an expansive office building where space has been lost to small shops. A hand drawn sign refers me to a narrow access route down the side of the building. I sit down on the sidewalk  to roll up with my liquorish papers and mild tobacco, an astute and competent security officer questions me, then leaves me alone with my nicotine addiction.

Before I know what’s what, I’m in a pleasant sunlit space in a large room, where stalls have been set up. There are some 150 people milling around.  I am pleased to see so many charities setting their boards up to help young people find a job.  I am particularly thrilled to see a banner for Equity, and to chat to a guy in Taggart .

Unexpectedly dancers  burst onto the floor, formidable women in their fifties dressed as Mary Seacole, young girls with great poise and dignity strutting and swinging. There is a flurry of African drums, one played by a studious boy in spectacles.

Before we know it the dancers have the audience up on the stage, instructing them on the art of viewing  your derriere as the chalk that draws on the blackboard, 1-2-3-4.  It turns out this dance troupe opened and closed the Olympics.

The event was Inspire, a community initiative bringing together groups such as DIG, private tenants who are coming together to give self help over issues such as rip off rents, shady practices over deposits and a support network for tenants who need help talking to their landlords.

Wilma bought a flat, then lost it. Struggling with serious structural problems with her property she faced shoddy building standards, an indifferent freeholder and eventually unemployment. She’s sofa surfing right now, but working on a play about the loss of dignity that comes from being evicted onto the street. She hopes to join a co-operative. I bet her play will be a corker.

Wendy is under 35 and was renting a small bedsit paid for by Housing Benefit. Under new Housing Benefit rules (the “room rate”) she was expected to move into digs with other people her age. She asked the Council for transitional help and they said they would-  after months of delay and four days before the Court date. Too little too late, she was evicted and now has no secure home.

We write on big pieces of paper with magic markers, swap tips.

In this Borough, home of the Silicon Hub of Hoxton, many private tenants cannot afford  the accommodation, however rotten, that is available on the market. Young people and those in early middle age who rely on benefits are expected to crowd in with strangers, yet comparatively few landlords make such arrangements available. The ones that genuinely do run houses in multiple occupation (HMO’S)  often run brutal slums.

I leave after a couple of hours, knocked out after the flu virus . Why is it that so much young to middle age talent is wasted, when dancing children make it all look easy?
Who ate all the pies?











Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Ship Shape

Aiden has a job. In fact he has two.

He has a British wife, and British children. Born in a former colony, he came to this land with a valid visa and settled. He pays his tax and national insurance.

He is resident in these green lands of Albion on a spouse visa, which enables him to lawfully work. In the fullness of time he is entitled to apply for leave to remain and settle, and this he does.

What could be fairer? Aiden has played by the rules. Yet one day he is suspended from his job, because his employers think that his papers are not in order.

The trade union warns that a profound unfairness is in train. His employers are blind to his explanations, for they are frightened of the new rules that say that, if your working papers are not all ship shape, they could be fined and prosecuted.

Aiden's papers are all ship shape, as it happens. He put in his application for permission to remain in time, it's all documented. The rules say that if you apply before your visa expires, you will continue with that same status until the Secretary of State makes a decison- even if this is after the date of your previous visa. The reason for this rule is obvious- the government takes a long time in making its decisions, and almost all the people who played by the rules and put in their application in time would otherwise become overstayers .

His trade union refers Aiden to us, and we explain the rules to the employer. It's a bit sad then that his employers move to dismiss him .

Their problem is that when they check with the government enquiry line the application has not been logged into the government's database.

It's even sadder that after Aiden's MP intervenes and asks the UK Border Agency to confirm that they have received Aiden's papers, they send a letter acknowledging receipt, telling him that his papers are all in order, and refering his employers to a database designed to confirm to employers that they are not breaking the rules.

It's even sadder that when his empoyer enquires twice of the government hotline , Aiden's details still haven't been entered. Sack the varlets!

Finally at the eleventh hour the database is updated, and Aiden can go back to work. I can't imagine how he might be feeling about his employers, or about our government.

On this occasion lawyers, trade unions and an MP saved Adie's job in the nick of time.

Last week the Legal Services Commission announced 40% cuts in Legal Aid cases they will fund in Hackney from next April. Tomorrow then, a father of two may be sacked, because although he is lawfully present in the UK, Legal Aid is being deliberately cut to the bone, to ensure that it is not possible to find the facts and tell the truth.

A story about a father of British children, playing by the rules for his family, will not be told with the voice of law, because of Legal Aid cuts.