Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
To ...She Knows Who She Is...
avenues of Handsome Town
I went strutting proudly down
years ago than I would shout
me slinking quietly out.
abdomen, once flat and taut
held more flagons than it ought
beckons to my second chin
me to reign it in
for my once-abundant hair...
stuff transplants itself, I swear
daily from my head
venues more discreet instead
this aside, my crowsfeet eyes
meeting you, at very start
off an e-mail to my heart
ticked the box saying
you'd say I am, and yes
years have rather left a mess;
house that featured better looks.
a frontage full of nooks
now, because of it
step inside, the fire is lit
table's laid, the kettle on
earlier tenant's baggage gone.
left those grander avenues
older, smaller, quieter mews
I'll tear down the Vacant sign
you will be my Valentine.
"There will be a
number of women facing their maker sooner than they expected."
states Ann quietly. We have been discussing her pension and the fact
that she, along with many thousands of other women like her, born
between 1953 and 1955, won't be receiving a pension quite yet. Ann,
61, won't receive her pension until autumn of 2020.
situation is complex but runs roughly like this: the British state pension age for women was due to rise from 60 to 65 between
2010 and 2020. But then,in 2011, the government accelerated the
process. Because of this, the state pension age for women is due to
go up to 65 in November 2018 and then to 66 by October 2020.
Ann was born in Essex in
October of 1954. After grammar school, she spent over a decade
working as a p.a in London. At 31 she gave birth to her daughter.
Her husband deserted her soon after the baby was born and simply
disappeared, leaving her penniless. Now, much as I have an
occasional titter at those Fathers 4 Justice blokes and their clumsy
Batman-style publicity pranks, many women too, get a raw deal after a
marriage breakdown. Women, despite stories to the contrary, don't
always come away with the house, the car and all the money.
Having been suddenly
deserted by her husband, lost her home and now with a young baby to
care for, Ann was plunged into crisis. With help from friends and
family. she began a teacher-training course, taking what work she
could in the meantime. She has never "not worked", she
says. Nor has she ever claimed any kind of state benefits. After
qualifying as a teacher, followed by many years in that occupation,
Ann believed that she would see out her working life as a teacher, In
2011, however, she was shocked to discover that she'd been employed
on a zero-hours contract. She was, effectively, made redundant, with
no legal redress and no payoff. It took a little while for her to
realise what had happened. "I was devastated and I went into a
short period of deep depression. Then I rallied." says Ann. She
reinvented herself as a gardener, taking on work, mostly, for older
ladies. She discovered that there was more work going than she could
actually do. Gardening work, however, although she enjoyed it hugely,
was not as remunerative as teaching. Quite apart from the fact that
Ann didn't want to let 'her ladies' down, she needed to pay the
bills. So she pushed herself ever harder.Then, while at work, one
morning last summer, she recalled feeling strange and extremely
tired. Her face went numb on one side. She found it hard to walk. Her
gardening customer drove her the few streets to her home, where a
friend was already phoning an ambulance. Ann had suffered a transient
stroke, almost certainly brought about, her friend bluntly told her,
by her 'working like navvy' when she was not far short of her 61st
As April 2016 looms, the
New State Pension and the attendant new rules approach, a storm is
brewing. Over 100,000 people have signed a petition challenging it.
They feel very strongly that women such as Ann, who has worked all
her life, have been let down by what was, in effect, a sudden
goalpost-shift by the Coalition government -- remember them?
As the Scots Nat. MP
Mhairi Black pointed out last week, there wasn't even a proper vote
on the matter at the time. The 2011 state pensions change seems to
have just been whistled through with hardly any thought about its
UK state pensions began
in 1909. The age for unmarried women to be eligible for a pension was
reduced to 60 in 1940. There were very sound reasons as to why it
was decided that single working women should receive their pensions a
little bit earlier than men. Physically, they wear out quicker. They
bear children and are inclined to suffer osteoporosis, anaemia and
all manner of other ailments less common or unknown in men. No matter
much old tosh on the subject of ageing, is written in Weekend Living
sections as reality insulation for the chronically gullible -- 60 is
not the new 40 and never will be. 60 is not even the new 56. It's
actually the old 60, a thing which I discovered for myself whilst
looking up from a hospital trolley at a doctor, shortly after I
Now I don't wish to get
into the politics of this, because as an Extreme Centrist, it's my
job to dislike Mr Shiny-Face in his wellies as much as I dislike Mr
Meerkat in his Lenin hat. So I would like to see an immediate
all-party debate in Parliament upon how to provide interim help for
women such as Ann, who currently has a long 4-year and 9-month haul
before she receives a state pension. Too old-fashioned to sign on,
too fragile to resume full-time garden work, she's currently doing
bits and bats of this and that, with occasional bail-outs from her
family and friends. Minister for Pensions, Ros Altmann, when asked
about the pensions debacle, replied that the law was the law. She
added that there was no chance of any change and that, "...the
decision had been known about long enough for women to have made
their own arrangements." Sisterhood, hey? Nice one, Baroness.
How did we get to this
point? Four out of five couples, recent headlines announce, cannot
now afford to buy a house. In a rather odd parallel to a
man-bites-dog situation, if 1600 homes are to be bolted onto one of
Colchester's flanks it is not news. If, however,16 'affordable' homes
are to be built in a nearby village, it's news. Not just news, but a
In recent years, for
instance, a Tendring councillor, Lyn McWilliams, struggled
valiantly for eighteen
years so that a dozen affordable homes could be built in Aingers
Green, near Great Bentley. During that time, thousands and thousands
of – do we call them 'non-affordable'? – homes went up all over
the region. What peculiar mindset permits such a situation? Recent
news that the bottom two rungs of the housing ladder have been
effectively removed has elicited some odd responses. According to
Emma Reynolds, the Shadow Housing Minister, “Unless we build many
more homes, working people will be denied their dream.” Dream?
This is the tremulous language of the TV talent show contestant. Can
the last one leaving the country please remove the light bulbs?
A home shouldn't be a
'dream'. It's an absolute necessity, right up there with water,
food, warmth and an income.
Whenever I am trying to
understand the seeming intractability of some modern obstacle, it is
my habit, not to scry into the future but instead to re-examine the
past. Usually I don't even have to go very far back, in order to shed
some light on things.
of the worst housing crises in living memory ensued immediately after
the last world war. This was caused, they now believe by the
assiduous bombing activities of some near-continental neighbours. As
a result of prevailing housing shortages, governmental blind eyes
were often turned to people living in huts, tents, old railway
carriages and on boats. The latter was the case, I have sometimes
heard, in Wivenhoe, where a group of people remained living in boats
for some years following the war. Farther up the coast, in Jaywick,
a place built as a holiday village in the 1930s by the entrepreneur
Frank Stedman, became a rather more permanent settlement. In London,
a squatters collective comprised of people who after fighting a war,
returned to homelessness, illegally occupied townhouses in the
capital's West End, refusing to budge. Under siege from the
authorities, their sympathisers, and there were many, threw the
squatters tins of food through the open windows. The Ealing comedy classic
to Pimlico is
loosely based on that now almost-forgotten dispute.
post-war housing crisis was followed by a huge building programme.
During six or seven years following the war, 1.2 million new houses
were built. Of these, almost 157, 000 were prefabs – an idea of
Winston Churchill's. Prefab, that is to say factory-built
prefabricated houses were an interim solution, meant only to last for
10 years. I
happen to know that there were still a couple of them in Rectory
Road, Wivenhoe until almost the mid 1980s. Oh, and they nearly all
had gardens big enough for a vegetable patch. These, were truly
affordable homes. The government, back then realised that the
workforce might need somewhere to lay its head, after a hard day's
getting the country back on its feet.
When we talk about a
housing 'crisis' do we mean that there aren't enough weather-proofed
dwellings where people may live? Or are we talking about the
impossibility of owning those dwellings? A further element adding to
our 'crisis' is that since estate agents took over the rental rodeo,
rent has reached parity with mortgage payments. Not only did it used
to be cheaper and easier to rent your house than to buy, it was also
something which you might do for years, if not decades. .
My grandad, a bus-driver,
rented the same house for most his adult life. Nowadays much rented
accommodation involves 6 or 12-month contracts, huge deposits and a
sheaf of regulations implemented during the buy-to-let boom. Such
rules, once in place, effectively turkey-truss the tenant almost to
immobility. Never mind being able to affording to buy a house, this
country's young couples need to be able to afford to simply dwell in
a house. I repeat, this should not be a dream.
I have an old friend in
Germany. His family have rented their house from the local council
for almost 200 years. It is, as you may have gathered, a secure
tenure. The family have over the centuries modernised and probably
extended the property a bit. They do not, as we do, sit around at
weekends getting all wistful over the property supplements.They just
live there. The Germans at 40% and the Swiss, at 38% have some of the
lowest home-ownership figures in the developed world. Here in the UK
we have some of the highest. Although home-ownership has declined
slightly, from a 2003 peak of 70 percent, for now it remains buoyant.
The rental sector has risen, however, which, we suppose is why the
estate agents have 'homed' in on it.
Overall it strikes me
that our problem, our crisis here, is not one of shortage of actual
dwellings. Cycle into nearly any pretty village at dusk and observe
how many unlit second homes there are. Our problem is one of
perception. Is your property a home – or part of an investment
portfolio? There is of course one simple explanation for our
so-called crisis. Greed.