Sadiq Khan was in yesterday’s Mirror offering his opinion on the Tories “plan to transform sink estates“; he speaks of how “having a secure and affordable home meant my parents could build a better life for me…”; this was also my experience.
My mum when widowed January 21 1965, was in the process of moving home, with my dad they’d bought a new bungalow and sold the terraced house they’d lived in for a decade, completing on Saturday 16/01/65. Due to the insurance documents not being signed at the same time, when my dad died of an unknown chronic heart disease on the Thursday, she and I were made homeless.
After two years of ‘making do’ at my grandparents we moved into a maisonette, on a new and at the time, state of the art council estate. Over the past 49 years the same estate has gone from being the flagship for Leicester City Council to so-called sink estate, now surrounded by iron bars. Yet it was that estate where I grew up, went to grammar school and ultimately university and on to post-grad education.
In 2012 “St Matthews Estate in Leicester is classed as the second most social deprived estate in the country” and yet despite this, my now 85 year old mum, still lives there out of choice. She has friends who have also lived there for decades and she receives support and help from the now majority Somali community; when she had a fall five month ago it was a young Somali man, who she didn’t know, that helped her home.
Given mums home is on ‘the second most deprived estate” it is likely that St Matthews will be one of those estates Cameron will want to transform. Some people will hearing/reading about this will think it a good idea, but my experience and that of Sadiq Khan, and perhaps more surprisingly The Economist, this transformation will destroy far more than it builds.
Not only will the residents be moved away from where they are comfortable and have the support networks vital for safety; as the Economist points out “Unnervingly, poor children seem to fare better in poor neighbourhoods.” The article ‘paradox of the ghetto‘ shows that “poor boys living in largely well-to-do neighbourhoods were the most likely to engage in anti-social behaviour, from lying and swearing to such petty misdemeanours as fighting, shoplifting and vandalism”. As a long term youth worker I suggest this has to do with the need to be accepted, rather than these boys being inherently ‘bad’. The need to fit-in is well documented and experience has shown me that where acceptance is not an option, being feared is the next best thing, and thus young people from these so called ‘sink’ neighbourhoods become the self-fulling prophecy. This theory is also supported by Professor Tim Newburn who says ” Living alongside the rich may also make the poor more keenly aware of their own deprivation”; therefore in order not to become the victim of the bullying being the outsider often results in, the poor child acts out. Further living in a community where families know each other and communicate, results in young people knowing any unsocial behaviour will be reported back; in my experience this makes you police yourself for fear of the wrath of mum.
Given the above I would suggest the Governments plan has far more to do with their aspiration to abolish social housing, rather any real “ambition” to enable the families living there. Reading the ‘Notes to Editor’ on the official press release, it claims ‘successful regeneration’ has already occurred at Woodberry Down in Hackney and Packington Estate in Islington However it does not address why both estates have been rebuilt with only 50% social housing, nor what happened to the other half of tenants? I can only imagine what will happen if Leicester City Council allows St Matthews to be ‘transformed’ (and the legacy of previous decisions made by our City Mayor strongly suggests it will); will my mum be forced into an unsuitable poky flat away from her network of friends and the close proximity of family, and it so how will she cope? This terrifies me as I’m only too aware of her attachment to her home.
The plan will also destroy the real community that exists on the estate, a community of former refugees who have already been forced from their homeland and yet have come together to create a neighbourhood of safety and opportunity. This is what precisely what the designers of St Matthews Estate desired 50 year ago and demonstrates exactly what Cameron’s Transformation plan ignores.