Our first guest blog…. 🙂 Five years ago I took the decision to move from London to Wales, for family reasons. I’d been working in commodity trading for a multinational energy company since leaving school so with no jobs in that sector in Wales, a change of career was necessary and more by luck than judgement, I decided on social housing. The pay looked ok and there were a few jobs advertised that I thought I might have a shot at.
My Mum is very politically engaged so I had grown up watching her fight against the Tory government, working hard to see Labour elected in 1997. I celebrated with her but I was only 18 at the time and to be honest, I was mostly just pleased for my Mum as her wish had come true. With her influence, I thought I knew about social justice and equality. My parents had lived in a council house when I was first born so I had some appreciation for the benefits of social housing and how important it is to society. My Dadis an immigrant to the UK who extolls the virtues of the opportunities that the UK has given him to anyone who’ll listen. He loves this country and is proud to live here. He has worked every day of his life since age 8, having grown up in poverty and he is proud to live in a country that enables him to give his children the childhood he couldn’t have.
What I didn’t realise, when I set about changing career, was just how life changing it was going to be. In my previous career, I worked hard, I bought a house and I enjoyed all the trappings that went with working in the City of London in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s. The “credit crunch” hit in 2007 when Lehman Brothers folded and although we all looked on at our peers across the road, leaving the building with their small boxes of desk belongings, really, if you had your own home and kept your job in London, the recession wasn’t feeling all that painful.
And then I got a job answering the phones at a Housing Association. Every day I listened and learned. I listened to tenants tell me how they were having to decide between heating or eating. I learned how to advise callers facing homelessness on where they should go for advice.
I learned that social housing is a worryingly scarce resource today. I remembered back to the 1980’s, listening to my Mum talk about the Tory “Right to Buy” and how worried she was and I began to understand.
I learned that normal people go through tough times, benefit “scroungers” are not the norm and that living in a country which could provide a safety net for its inhabitants was something to be proud of, just like my Dad had told me. I remembered my Mum telling me about the Poll Tax riots and explaining to me that it wasn’t about people just not wanting to pay what they owed but that these people could barely get by on what they had and I began to understand.
I now have children of my own. I hope I can continue the lessons my Mum and Dad taught me and that I’m now learning through my work as an Affordable Housing Enabler for a Local Authority. I want to help them understand that we shouldn’t demonise those worse off than us. I hope I can help them to understand that what you see on TV is not always the whole story and that “How to Get a Council House” and “Benefits Street”are not representative of the work I do. I want to teach them to open their eyes, don’t just read the hashtags and don’t take what the media tell you at face value.