Socialist Worker

Evicted director Brian Woods on documenting today’s housing catastrophe

by Kelly Hilditch
Issue No. 2028

A scene from Evicted

A scene from Evicted

As part of the BBC’s No Home series looking at homelessness in Britain today, Brian Woods’s documentary Evicted follows the stories of three young women as their families are made homeless.

Brian told Socialist Worker, “We’d been talking about making a documentary about social exclusion. Five years ago we made a film about child poverty called Eyes of a Child and we wanted to look at some of the same issues.

“It was suggested that we should look at doing something to coincide with the 40 year anniversary of Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home. So we did some research – and it was quite astonishing how little had changed.

“I was shocked at the lack of services, how people are left to fend for themselves. Many well meaning housing officers, or I assume they’re well meaning, spout this government gobbledygook.

“The government also says that families cannot be housed in bed and breakfasts for more than six weeks – but I know of families who’ve done three months.

“What I find most upsetting is how this can ruin the lives of young people like Sarah, who is one of the young women we follow in the film.

“She is a really bright girl and would have gone on to do A-levels. But her family being made homeless has taken all that away from her.

“Social services moved the family 20 miles away from Sarah’s school, at the point when she should have been preparing to take her GCSEs. No help was offered, no transport or help to find a new school. These are simple solutions.

“The average school time lost by children whose families are made homeless is 11 weeks. That’s almost an entire term.”

One of the most disturbing cases in the film is that of eight year old Chloe.

Her family was locked out of the house she had lived in her whole life because of a mix up with housing benefits.

The first that the family knew of the rent arrears caused by this was an eviction notice.

Brian said, “There is a homeless crisis, and the government is pretending that it is not happening. There is simply not enough social housing, so councils are forced to rely on the private sector to provide homes.

“But the private sector can make the problem worse. With the rent being so high in many privately rented homes it puts people in a trap. Chloe’s father couldn’t find work that would allow the family to pay the rent, so he couldn’t afford to get a job – because they couldn’t afford to lose the housing benefit.

“What we desperately need is more social housing, and this is the government’s responsibility. The government wants the market to sort out this problem – but it can’t.

“The thing is that landlords can make a lot more money through holiday lets than they can renting to people who need homes.

“One of the families I worked with, though their story isn’t in the final programme, lived in Oxford. And they were just unable to find a home.

“This situation means that people are forced to move away from friends and family.

“There are just not enough homes. And the houses that are being built are one and two bedrooms, because the people who you can make the best money out of are singles and childless couples.

“And so you have this perverse situation where councils keep families in bed and breakfasts or hostels because they are not allowed, even as a temporary measure, to move them into homes that would be considered overcrowded.

“Of course a family of four or five can’t live in a two bedroom flat forever. But as a stop gap while a home is found, with their own kitchen and bathroom, it is certainly a better option.

“The problem can only be sorted by the government taking it seriously, and starting some serious social house building.

“I really hope that if nothing else this project makes people pay a little more attention to how homelessness affects children. Because at the moment there is no joined up thinking about how to minimise the disruption and confusion that this creates.”

Homelessness figures

  • 1,546,954
    number of families on social housing waiting lists
  • 680,412
    number of empty homes in England
  • £730,072,642
    the amount spent on temporary accommodation in 2005
  • 654
    the average number of days that homeless families spend in temporary accommodation

Evicted is being shown on BBC1 on Wednesday 29 November at 10.35pm.

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