Oh my god. I can’t get home. Apparently I live in a Scottish city’s no-go area. Everyone who lives in my working class district in the East End of Glasgow, predominantly consisting of social housing, is cowering in terror in the Forge Shopping Centre in Parkhead. Only Parkhead is a no-go area too and Greggs is about to run out of sausage rolls. Someone is hoarding bridies, and the shop shelves are being emptied of yum yums. Will the horrors never end? It’s far too terrifying to set foot in Easterhoose, in case someone glances in your direction as you pass them on the pavement and says, “The nights are fair drawin in eh.” The darkness. The darkness. It’s enough to make you wake up in the night covered in sweat from the fear. If you could get home to sleep in your own bed that is, which you can’t because it’s in a no-go area.
Tory MSP and local government spokesperson Graham Simpson clearly needs to get out more. According to the genteel Mr Simpson, Scotland’s cities are peppered with “no-go” areas. In a debate in Holyrood this week on housing, the man from the party that has axed entitlement to housing benefit, ended lifelong social housing lets in England, presided over a property bubble that has put home ownership out of the reach of hundreds of thousands, and is forcing housing associations in England to sell of their stock, blamed Labour and the SNP for the housing crisis saying, “That we have in our great cities sink estates, no-go areas and people sleeping rough should be a source of shame for the SNP and Labour.”
Ah Tories. Don’t you just love the way in which they shamelessly blame everyone else for the problems that they’ve done more to create than anyone? And don’t you just love the way in which they demonise, insult, and besmirch working class people in Scotland’s cities. There’s the real voice of the Scottish Conservatives there, a wee net curtain twitcher with pursed lips in a douce wee toon or suburb, whose entire experience of working class areas comes from outraged and outrageous columnists in the Daily Mail.
It’s not like we don’t have Tories in places like Barlanark, Easterhouse or Shettleston. They do exist, and can be easily identified because they’re the ones in cheap polyester paramilitary uniforms marching behind a big drum to the accompaniment of tunes about killing Catholics. They’re not the kind of people that the douce wee purse lippers want to associate with, certainly they’d not invite them for tea and scones in the village café, but they’re quite happy that the sectarian poison is being inflicted on working class areas if it means that the better off can preserve their prejudices, privileges and preference.
Because of the Scottish Parliament, Scotland has protected itself from some of the worst aspects of the housing crisis that blights the UK. Scotland has abolished the right to buy, meaning that there is still a stock of decent social housing in this country. It is still difficult to get into social housing, but it’s easier in Scotland than it is in some parts of England. The Scottish Parliament has mitigated the evil bedroom tax introduced by the Tories, but only at the expense of making cuts elsewhere in the Scottish budget. There is a limit to what Scotland can do when the main levers of control are elsewhere.
A few decades ago, it was a rare sight to see homeless people begging on the streets of our large cities, and when you did see them they tended to be older men who were clearly strugging with problems of alcohol abuse. Now you see homeless people by the hundreds, young, old, male, female. Homelessness charities estimate that there are up to 5000 people who sleep rough on the streets of Scotland’s towns and cities. It’s a national disgrace.
Homeless people are individuals. They’re human beings just like the rest of us. Human beings who through tragic circumstances, an uncaring benefits system, or sheer bad luck have ended up without a roof over their heads. There but for the grace of the gods could go any one of us. Some seemingly have mental health issues. Some seemingly have decided that the only way to get through their horrible days and even worse nights is to self-medicate on alcohol or drugs. Those of us who are lucky enough to have a safe and warm home have no right to judge or condemn them for that, not until we’re prepared to walk mile after mile in their leaky shoes with no prospect of a warm and dry bed at the end of the trudge in the rain. Drug and alcohol abuse are all too often sane responses to insane circumstances. It’s the Tories above all who are responsible for creating those insane circumstances, and then they preach about no-go areas and blame everyone else for the social problems they’ve manufactured out of their own greed, selfishness, and avarice.
There are thousands of rough sleepers, but there are thousands more hidden homeless, people who couch-surf or who rely on assistance from family or friends. This kind of homelessness is far more common, and often doesn’t come to the attention of homeless charities or local authorities until the homeless person’s informal arrangements break down.
There are many reasons for homelessness, but the largest single cause in recent years is the changes that have been made by the Conservative government in Westminster to the housing benefits system. Housing benefit now only pays “eligible rent”, which is the amount that the Westminster government deems to be reasonable for your area. The benefits cap limits the total amount that a claimant can receive. If you are single, under the age of 35, and rent privately, you’ll only be entitled to the cost of a single room in a shared house. If you are under the age of 22, you might not be eligible for any help with your housing costs at all. Combined with the rise in low wages and the so-call gig economy with the precarious and uncertain income it provides, hundreds of thousands more people across the UK now struggle to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. The fault for this lies squarely with the Conservative government and a Labour government before it which was equally happy to treat housing as an investment opportunity and not as a human right.
Every homeless person on the streets of Scotland is a testament to the failure, greed, and malign meanness of the Tories. Yes, certainly, the Scottish Parliament could do more, but all it can do is to mitigate the damage caused by Westminster policies. The best way to deal with the housing crisis is to make the whole of Scotland a no-go area for Conservatives.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
Wee Ginger Fundraiser
I’m doing a fundraiser this year to keep this blog going for another twelve month and to allow the dug and me to continue visiting local groups all across Scotland. You can donate via my crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo –
Or you can donate by making a payment directly into a special bank account I’ve set up for the purposes of this fundraiser, or by sending a cheque or postal order. If you’d like to donate by one of these methods, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send the necessary information. Please also use this email address if you would like the dug and me to come along to your local group for a talk.