Election Comment

I was trying to write an election comment on here for most of the day but kept giving up. In the end, I’ve decided to do this by talking about my academic research for once on this blog (apologies to my avid fans who thought you’d be getting more of that). Over the last few years as part of a PhD project on evictions I researched the practices of eviction enforcement from initial arrears to the day of eviction itself. In particular I focused in a city (which is anonymous) in the North of England. You probably know a city like it: a post-industrial town where heavy manufacturing and extractive industries defined its development, which gave way to mass unemployment from the 1970s on until the Blair-era ‘creative regeneration’ expanded the Higher Education and Arts sectors, but inevitably it was always insufficient, and when austerity policies came into effect the impacts were overwhelming. I spent time interviewing people whose job it was to enforce debts, rents and evictions in this place.

There are basic, scholarly, things to raise: MoJ statistics show evictions have increased dramatically in the rented sector since 2010. FOI data shows that police attendance at evictions in a city like Manchester have doubled since 2010. I could cite all the empirical data that I produced and found in interviews etc. But there’s a whole thesis of that.

In commenting on this election, I thought I’d mention several personal observations on this research. These are things I want to mention [CN: Eviction, suicide, domestic violence]:

I want to mention the way interviewees would often save their worst stories for me until after the recorder was switched off, and how they were scared to go on record about just how bad things seemed to be. They would share stories about tenants living on nothing more than sacks of potatoes, women pressured into handing their rent money to abusive partners because they didn’t have anywhere else to go, and people with mental health problems who were at the mercy of the bailiffs’ decision about whether they got support or evicted. They would talk about the people who were evicted after being sanctioned who then went missing, only to be found in the river two weeks later. Many of these stories will never make it into any official academic publication, but they need to be remembered.

 

But I also want to talk about the friends and strangers who contacted me privately or tried to talk to me, when they learned what I was researching, to ask for legal or practical advice because they or their family members were losing their home. So many other researchers in housing I’ve spoken to report the same experience. The actual advice or charitable services most people go to for legal advice should this happen, such as Citizens Advice Bureau, have also faced significant cuts and strain on their resources at a local and national level. A tremendous stigma still surrounds being in debt or losing your home. If you think austerity isn’t that bad because you’ve not been affected, I would say that it’s likely more of your friends are hurt by it than you think. Mine only told me because I accidentally became someone they thought might be able to help.

Austerity is a special kind of violence. And it is incredibly difficult to study anything affected by it and not conclude that. It is grounded in the idea that the poorest people must not only be ignored but be actively punished for failings of the economy. It assumes the most vulnerable people in our lives are either incapable of, or do not deserve to do, any activity beyond the most basic: any creative endeavour, any experience of the wider world, or any attempt at building relationships with others. It is grounded in the idea that balancing the books is more important than any possible form of existence, and it has no sense of an end beyond this. If you support austerity, you are cheating yourself of so much of the abundance and joy of others.

I don’t expect it will end tomorrow, but it ought to.