IT is May 15, 2024, and the Hereford Times print edition lead story is: ‘Row over homeless shelter in loo’, highlighting the fact that Herefordshire’s Tory-led council’s planners unilaterally think a disused public toilet attached to St Peter’s Methodist Church is a prime location for a homeless shelter.

Thatcher’s ‘homeowner democracy’ that was supposed to have brought in on May 3, 1979, when the turnout was 76 per cent, a far higher figure than at subsequent central and local government elections, was more literally a “property-owning democracy.”

That was at a time when Star Wars film lingo such as “May the Force be with you” was becoming mainstream; and so it was perhaps apt that successive neoliberal governments should later speak of ‘government by market forces’. Either the forces were with you, or they were against you.

It is now widely known that the real legacy of the tenant’s ‘Right to Buy’ the council housing they lived in has been a depletion of social housing stock, alongside overcrowding leading to ceiling collapses due to black mould development, while ‘government by market forces’ saw housing as ‘real estate’ rather than the security of a roof over one’s own head.

And in the few years immediately preceding the 2010 ConDem coalition government’s ‘austerity’ stranglehold on socially useful public spending, investigative reporter Johann Hari wrote in The Independent on issues of prison overcrowding alongside the narrative of a ‘moral implosion’: “…we are imprisoning people in toilets. Doncaster prison, run by the private firm Serco, was designed to hold 800 people, but it now pens in more than 1,000. So the governors have put beds in the toilets, and detained people there for more than 18 hours a day, week after week. In toilets. In Britain. Today (July 2008).”

Hari cites test cases from abroad of more cost-effective and socially just remedies to the problems for which people are mainly imprisoned in the UK. I shan’t get into those now on account of space.


What are your thoughts?

You can send a letter to the editor to have your say by clicking here.

Letters should not exceed 250 words and local issues take precedence.

Now, though, I briefly flag up the fact that while it is widely known that where ‘market forces’ are involved prospective legal costs prevent councils from taking effective action, so too have cuts in legal aid removed people’s safeguards and cost-effective timely advice.

“It could be you!”