Tuesday, 4 December 2012
In praise of social housing and the welfare state
I will declare an interest. I grew up in a one-parent family on a council estate. I occasionally attended my local comprehensive school. I say occasionally because for the most part I played truant. I spent much of my time skipping school but walking and reading on the local common. It had a windmill which I loved. It later had Wombles but that is another story. I contemplated life under the sun. Like many others, I left school at 15 with no qualifications. My penultimate school report said they 'could see no reason why public money should be wasted on the attempted education of this boy'. So I declare this interest of a privileged upbringing.
Social housing kept a roof over our heads at a rent mum could (barely) afford; and oh how I recall the days when she couldn't. She worked all hours to keep that roof over our heads. In those early days of Rock-and-Roll, Bill Haley and the Comets, Adam Faith, Billy Fury, Cliff Richard (yes I was/am a fan), the estate had three caretakers and a boiler man. They would maintain it in the style in which we had become accustomed. We had a library too in which I spent most of my early youth. I read Karl Marx in it but decided I was not a Marxist. I read a lot of history - the industrial revolution - and this history coloured my view of the world. Although the first book I recall reading in the library was Peter Rabbit - not at the same age as reading Karl Marx, although sometimes when reading Das Kapital I longed for the simplicity of Peter Rabbit. In case you wondered I also read Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. I read Charles Dickens and was struck by how middle class his heroes were even amongst the poverty and the artful dodger.
I hadn't formed a coherent political view but I found myself wanting Labour to win. The Tories had opposed the NHS and the NHS was part of my privileged childhood. I was born when it was born. I grew up with it and had my first tooth pulled with it - a very nasty experience which to this day clouds my view of dentists. I had my first eye test with it and a pair of horned-rimmed glasses - at primary school I became 'four eyes'. I loved my primary school with its free school milk and dinners. I wanted to become a teacher, if only because the teacher got to stand by the radiator on cold winter mornings. We were driven outside on cold winter days to either run around or freeze; most of us chose to run around as cowboys or Indians. I cannot recall what happened to those who didn't run around. I was always an Indian and that says a lot. (read part 2)