Guest Blog by Rob G.
I cut the grass last week.
Of course, it’s mundane, and we all have to do it, it’s not remarkable nor special… and anyway, what has cutting the grass got to do with council houses?
Well, these are my thoughts about community and social housing, which naturally contain a (mercifully short) moan about bedroom tax.
It was a gloriously sunny day when I went out for the first grass cut this year. There had been a few sunny days beforehand, and many neighbours in the street had already cut theirs, but I had to wait for somebody to buy me a lawnmower before I could start.
Not only that, I had to make sure that there was somebody in my home with my wife before I began, and I also needed to ensure I’d had something to eat and tested my blood sugar levels. Additionally I had to make sure at least two of my neighbours were in, so that I could plug the lawnmower into their power outlets. All eminently manageable.
Our little corner of the street we live in is made up of half a dozen bungalows, owned and maintained by our local authority as social housing. When they were built, sometime around the end of the 1970s, the interior doorways were made slightly wider, and the layout designed so that they’d be navigable by people in small wheelchairs, or easy get around for older or disabled residents whose mobility is an issue.
I’m pretty sure that all the other properties in the street that were once all social housing, are now privately owned, so this quite specialised corner of council housing is all that remains of immediate social housing provision.
As a result of sticking to this sensible allocations policy, predominantly all the tenants here have needs that are being met by living in truly affordable ‘council houses’. They have illnesses, disabilities or mobility needs. As a result, cutting the grass isn’t really practical for most of them. So I do it.
One of my neighbours, a man who has spent his entire life working, and even in retirement cares for his wife, bought the lawnmower because he feels that’s his contribution now that he can’t maintain his garden himself, and would otherwise have to pay a gardener.
Another neighbour sometimes splits the grass cutting and hedge-trimming duties with me, but with variable health conditions isn’t always able to do so. A third neighbour doesn’t have any legs, but in order for me to get around both sides of her property, I need to plug into the mains in her home to reach all the lawns. It’s a team effort, and it is just one of the things that binds us together in a loose community.
This isn’t a blog about me cutting the grass, even though I hurt my arm a bit and could feasibly pout for internet sympathy. This is just one example of how council houses are about more than cheap rents and taxpayer ‘subsidies’.
We have formed a little community here that goes a bit beyond waving and saying hello to our neighbours. The higher level of needs that these tenants have mean that collectively the whole community is dependent on help, but in many ways we look first to help each other.
So, the bedroom tax epilogue. Not all of our micro-community pays it, some still pay their rent. Not all are expected to – whether through adaptations, living arrangements or outright poverty, some members of our community shouldn’t, and don’t have to pay it.
Prior to the welfare reforms, none of my neighbours had to use foodbanks, but now some do. One of my neighbours receives care from the Independent Living Fund, and now faces uncertainty about how their care will be provided. I try and help out with keeping them up to date, as neither has the internet.
But it’s me, caring full time for my disabled wife, who is most likely to fall foul of the bedroom tax. All it would take for my household – me, my wife and the garden waste recycling bags – to be removed entirely from the community is a tiny decision about overnight carers.
Who would cut the grass then?