One day a few months ago I was sitting in the office on the telephone enquiring after the status of one of our resident's housing benefit (they wont do it themselves) when Jerry, 19, decided to turn up ten minutes late for his support work meeting with me. I jestured to Jerry, who was standing at the window looking in to the office, that I would be another three or four minutes. He shook his head in disbelief and outrage and started to pace up and down outside the window. After about a minute, he started to knock frantically on the window and started tapping on his watch. I don't know what his rush was as he is unemployed and has all week to walk around gormlessly. Anyway, he had arrived late for his meeting so he had no right to be indignant as far as I was concerned. However, I decided to end the call with the council and have stern words with Jerry. I called him in to the office and before I could get a word in he was venting his frustrations.
"I shouldn't be kept waiting I have things to do and we had a meeting arranged. Anyway, what's this latest letter threatening me with eviction for? I have a rent repayment plan and have been paying it so you lot need to get off my back!" lectured Jerry.
"First of all Jerry, you were late for your meeting with me so I don't have to justify or apologise to you for having to wait. Now, whilst we are on the subject of tardiness let's talk about the issue of rent, something you are almost always late with and frequently avoid paying all together. Now, the thing with a rent repayment plan Jerry is that in having one you are suppoused to comply with it. You, in fact, have had three over the past four months and have not abided with any of them consistently. Even when you were working (he was recently sacked for constantly arriving late and being absent) you didn't pay all your rent. When I would try to talk to you about it you would become rude, dismiss me with a wave of your hand and would walk off. When I did manage to pin you down you would try to haggle with me on how much rent you felt was reasonable for you to pay (I did try to explain to him that rent was not a haggable commodity but I did admire his persistence in this delusion). This latest warning letter will be your last and the next letter you get will be your notice so we need to sit down and work out how you are going to sort out your rent arrears. At the end of the day I will take no pleasure in seeing you evicted and am disappointed that you recently lost your job. However, the first thing you need to do is apply for Housing Benefit, which you should have done a few weeks ago when you were sacked. We have already had this conversation twice...."
And so ended another frustrating keywork session and like so many others I have worked with Jerry failed to even manage to get his Housing Benefit sorted and we eventually evicted him. He returned to live with his Mother who like Old Mother Hubbard had so many kids she didn't know what to do. I wish that we had effective policies to assist the likes of Jerry to make progress in their lives. Young men like Jerry exist because as a society we have failed to inculcate them with the very basic of lifeskills. Supported Housing is supposed to ameliorate these problems but it so often just entrenches and perpetuates fecklessness and dependency.
On a more positive note, the nice people at the Orwell Prize have awarded me with this year's blog prize. To say I am honoured is an understatement. I started this blog initially as a form of catharsis and never imagined it would receive such prestigious recognition.