More on evictions… Wandsworth council has started eviction proceedings against a woman whose 17 year old has been charged with but not been convicted of offences during the riots. The Guardian report doesn’t quite say what’s he’s been charged with, but the quote from Camerom implies that it’s burglary… but that might just be him generalising – or commenting without knowing the full facts – perish the thought!
Now I appreciate the general principle involved in this… why should people who can’t behave as decent members of society be recipients of its largesse? (Same argument of course is cited by those who are saying that anyone involved in the riots should have their benefits taken away). And with housing it’s actually more acute, because there are so many people on the housing lists, desperate to find social housing – so why shouldn’t it be allocated on the basis of deserving getting precedence over the undeserving? It’s something that’s frequently raised with me at my constituency surgeries, where problem neighbours are a common theme.
The counter-argument to this is of course that by taking away people’s housing and benefits you’re actually just making a bad situation worse. They’re not going to ‘shape up’ when faced with destitution… they’re going to sink even deeper into criminality, and their lives are going to become even more futile and the damage to the kids even more irreparable. Some might say, so what… they had their chance, let’s focus on those who deserve it. But unfortunately if we throw the “undeserving” out on the scrapheap it often ends up being the “deserving” who suffer, from increased crime, no-go areas in their community and quite possibly a repeat of what we’ve seen on the streets over the past week.
A few points occur to me in relation to this particular case…
a) He’s been charged, but not convicted…Whatever happened to innocent till proven guilty?
And let’s say for the sake of argument that he ends up being acquitted… What does the Council do if he, turn round and say they can have their house back?
b) It’s questionable whether the son’s conduct… let’s say for the sake of argument this time that he is guilty of an offence… constitutes a breach of the tenancy agreement. “Wandsworth council’s leader, Ravi Govindia, said that, in signing a tenancy agreement, tenants had agreed not to take part in activities that could jeopardise their housing.” How wide do you cast the net on that?
c) The mother will apparently be deemed to have made herself intentionally homeless despite not having done anything except not keeping control of her 17 year old son… and I can see that there would be a direct line of responsibility if the son was terrorising the neighbours, under her nose, but is she expected to know what a 17 year old gets up to all the time? (Although she is quoted as saying she can’t keep her son under control, so perhaps there’s a history of problems, and this isn’t just about his actions on one night). But anyway, if she’s deemed to be intentionally homeless, yes, that discharges the housing department at the council of any responsibility to rehouse her… but there seems to be a younger child in the household too, and my understanding is that in such circumstances Social Services have a responsibility to step in and provide housing. And even if there is no social housing provided, as people on Twitter have pointed out, if the mother is claiming Housing Benefit, the state will end up picking up the increased tab of her paying for private rented accommodation.
d) There’s a younger child in the family… A child who will be turfed out onto the streets, or maybe end up in emergency accommodation or a hostel, through no fault of their own. Even if you hold the mother culpable, and we don’t have any idea of what her parenting was like, but even it was dreadful and she’s almost entirely to blame for her son’s (alleged) criminality, there is no question of the younger child being in any way responsible for this… And on the basis that there’s a chance, perhaps only a slight chance but a chance nonetheless, that this child might just turn out OK, isn’t it ludicrous to evict them from their home and significantly increase the chance that he/ she won’t?
On a related point, there was a TV news report earlier today that a care worker – and I didn’t quite catch whether they said she was a mother of two, or a mother of a two year old – has been remanded in custody on a charge of handling stolen goods. She’ll lose her job, and God knows what will happen to the kids… And she hasn’t been convicted of anything, she’s pleading not guilty. I appreciate that the circumstances of these (alleged) offences mean that they will, and I agree, should, attract higher sentences, as a deterrent to others and because of the fear and mayhem caused… But this isn’t a sentence, this is a remand. It’s very unusual to remand in custody on a handling charge. Conditional bail pending trial, with tough conditions like a curfew, would be far more appropriate. Even if you assume she’s probably guilty – and it’s not our job to do so, it’s for the criminal justice system to determine that – think about the kids, whose mother has disappeared overnight… Surely we should be giving her the benefit of the doubt, for their sake?