I was lagered and dined at someone else’s expense: eating sushi in a restaurant like one of those celebrities. I admit though to showing myself up by using cutlery because I can’t do fat noodles and chopsticks.
It was genuinely nice to get out: I took off my coat to walk in the rain, breathing in the air, the bus fumes and smell of the city like an old lag released after many years. I enjoyed the chitter-chatter of those around me, listening in when I could to the gossiped minutia of their lives. I also did a bit of gossiping.
I was, though, glad to be home. I’ve found I feel safe indoors, I now worry needlessly about break-ins when I’m out. I have no home insurance because it cost too much and I think someone stealing my House DVD box set might just be the final straw. It’s not something I used to worry about but neurosis comes with long-term employment.
I’ve been offered some part-time work in January which should cover my bills and I’m seriously considering taking it: I will enjoy it; I will look active again while seeking work and I will be again seen as a reliable, trustworthy employee.
I am, though, terrified I won’t be paid on time, won’t make my rent payments and get into further debt. I also worry about affording payments to the pension scheme I’m already a part of and if HMRC will demand the tax I owe despite my contract being for no more than 12 weeks. And I wonder if walking away from a job – even a part-time job – will mean I made myself unemployed and am not, therefore, entitled to benefits. I’m scared a combination of these added pressures on a short-term income will result in my becoming homeless.
This is neurosis, I know. I can find the answers to my questions before I make a decision, but I’ve never been afraid of being homeless before, it’s never been a threat while I’ve been a working adult. I’ve lived in my flat for a decade and just once got behind on the rent. Now I recognise how surprisingly quickly homelessness can happen: lose your benefits or don’t pay your rent/mortgage and you lose your home.
The Guardian reports on documentary film-maker Robert Wilkins who travelled on the night-time bendy bus in London just before it was taken off the road and says, “Rather than the stereotype rough sleeper – the gaunt, grizzly wino in tattered clothes – he found people who had to their surprise been tripped up by joblessness, eviction and relationship breakdown and had fallen rapidly on hard times. Some who travelled the buses every night were reluctant to even accept that they were homeless.
“As Wilkins says: “They weren’t like I imagined homeless people to be.”
There was much celebration about the end of the bendy bus and blame for its existence thrown Ken Livingstone’s way but I had not considered for a second that it had given a few hours of sleeping in safety to some of the capital’s homeless.
You don’t have to sleep on a bendy bus or in a doorway to be homeless: you could be sleeping on friends’ settees, forced to move back in with parents, using a relatives’ spare room. You’re still without a permanent address.
Sky News reports, “Government cuts and high unemployment are driving a sharp rise in the number of young people who are homeless. Charities believe there is a worrying link between the record youth unemployment figures and the people they are dealing with.”
The report goes on, “A survey carried out by Homeless Link reveals 44% of homeless services and 48% of councils have reported an increase in young people seeking help […] and 62% of young homeless people seen by charities were not in education, training or employment, and around half were in financial difficulties.”
And research by homeless charity Shelter shows that repossession rates are so high, someone risks losing their home in the Uk every two minutes. Chief executive Campbell Robb says,
“As Christmas approaches, this research paints a frightening picture of thousands of families living every day with the fear of losing their home hanging over their heads. It’s sobering to see that so many communities are blighted by the risk of eviction.
“Shelter research shows that a third of people are already struggling with their housing costs or falling behind on payments. In these unforgiving conditions, it only takes one thing – illness, job loss or relationship breakdown – to lead to things spiralling out of control and into homelessness.”
Homelessness, while a very real problem for young people, also affects homeowners who lose their jobs and can’t make mortgage payments: benefits don’t help with the entirety of mortgage payments, only with rent.
According to Guardian reports, in 1999 43,900 properties were taken into possession. This fell to 32,800 in 1997, rose to 25,900 in 2007, 40,000 in 2008, 47,900 in 2009, and fell again to 36,300 in 2010. The Council of Mortgage Lenders, meanwhile, puts its repossession forecast for 2011 and 2012 at 40,000 and 45,000 respectively.
The highest rate of repossession outside London is in Manchester – at a level nearly double the national average, according to independent newspaper Manchester Mule.
Unemployment is now at its highest level since 1994 – 2.64 million up by 128,000 in three months – according to The Office for National Statistics. The numbers claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance rose to 1.6 million in November. This could be more people losing their homes.
The homeless are not drunks in doorways, the butt of jokes about dogs on string leads or someone sitting by the cash machine hoping for a hand out – they’re a few rent payments, a job loss or benefit sanction away from losing their home. They’re like you and me.
Now I must call HMRC and see if I am able to work and keep my earnings.
Plans today: Pop out into the cold to meet Jobseekers’ Agreement duties
Job search lateral-thinking: Started searching PhD opportunities (not recognised as job-seeking by Jobcentre Plus); teacher-training routes (despite having a qualification for higher education and, like all good journalists, I don’t have a maths GCSE) and sending my CV on spec to people no doubt inundated with CVs on spec
Things that make me happy: A three bird roast in the freezer ready for Christmas Day, a gift of two boxes of cat food for Chaplin and a case of wine for me