GUEST POST: Generation Rent

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This week’s guest post comes from one of my favourite people – Kath Shaw. We’ve been friends ever since the day we had to create a make-shift rubbish disposal cart whilst working together at a multiplex cinema. Our cinema days are behind us and we’re now grown-ups trying to navigate life in London. By day Kath works in PR and by night she takes me to comedy gigs.

GUEST POST: Generation Rent

Nine out of ten north London private renters have had “serious problems” with their homes, according to details of the #BigRentersSurvey released last week; problems ranging from landlords entering the property without prior notice, deposits not being returned and unexpected rent hikes.

I moved into a new flat at the start of this month and with one day’s notice was told the rent was going up. The letting agency had known I was moving in for eight weeks so why hadn’t they told me earlier? Presumably because they knew that with 24 hours to go I would already be packed, there would already be somebody ready to take over the room I was vacating and I would have no choice but to meet their demands.

I take little comfort in being part of the 90 per cent of people being screwed over in the city but I take some comfort in knowing that Sian Berry, Green member of the London Assembly and former mayoral candidate, is calling on Sadiq Khan to set up an independent London-wide organisation to represent renters. London is made up of private renters; it’s about time we had the help available to us made clear and formulised. It’s about time there was some protection.

My salary didn’t increase in line with my rent so it just means a larger percentage of it will be given over to my landlord, but I’m by no means the worst affected here. I have a job which pays well and a family who’ll ensure I don’t go hungry. Lots of people don’t. The people who work in the retail or service industry in zones one or two who earn minimum wage – where do they live? The minimum wage in London for 21-24 year olds is £6.95. On a 39 hour a week contract, they will take home – after tax and national insurance – around £1062 a month. Even less if they’re making the pension contributions we’re all being told to make. They’re met with the challenge of working out whether it’s cheaper to live in central and walk to work, or live in zones five and six where the rents are slightly lower and pay travel. The reality is they’re probably working an extra job (or two) and sharing their flats with multiple people. For them, it’s not a case of a little less disposable income. Every fiver was accounted for when I was unemployed and then again when I was on minimum wage. That £40 extra a month on rent just simply isn’t there to spare.
During the 24 hours of ‘negotiations’ with my new letting agency, they suggested I should give up the tenancy and they would ‘find someone who was happy to pay market rate’. Show me those people. Who are they? Who is walking around happy to pay £500+ a month for a box room in a converted council flat? What they meant is they’d find someone happy to accept that they have to pay market rate.

I moved from the North East to London and sometimes when I want to cloak myself in sadness, I play the, ‘what would this get me in County Durham?’ game. The answer: a three bed house in a good catchment area, a yard – potentially a garden, living room, dining room, garage. But I just brush it off. I join in with colleagues as we share those all too frequent viral room adverts offering little more than a tent in a living room. I frivolously compare London to the cinema whereby I wouldn’t dream of going into a supermarket and happily handing over £14 for a Diet Coke and some Butterkist but within the parallel economy of a multiplex cinema, I don’t question it. London is my Vue: County Durham, my Sainsbury’s.

And that’s fine for me. I could pick myself up and move back. If the work opportunities were better, I probably would – and I’d probably fit back in just fine. But what about all the Londoners who are being priced out of their own home city by greedy landlords who plead that ‘they’re just charging market rate’ (as if market rate isn’t something they have any shitting control over) – do they have to move out to completely new areas, get new jobs and build new support networks? That can’t be how it is.

So it’s not just landlords screwing born and bred Londoners over. It’s idiots like me, who keep paying the ridiculous rents. I could just stop. Maybe we should just stop – that might be the only way the revolution starts. If we all just bartered and dared to suggest that maybe the bedsit with the leaky shower wasn’t legitimately worth £680 a month – and all agreed that we wouldn’t pay it. Landlords would have to price their properties in accordance to their actual worth, not the value they’ve escalated it to. Mobilising a city of people is all it would take…

Generation Rent. That’s what we’re called. Those in (or approaching) their 30s who have half the wealth than those born a decade earlier had at the same age and have the lowest house ownership rates for any generation in a century. If we’ve been given a name then it seems likely we’re renting for the foreseeable. It’s bad enough that London homes are too expensive for us to ever own them, we shouldn’t have to also deal with an inefficient and exploitative renting system.

So whilst things don’t seem likely to change anytime soon, it might have to be enough to at least have some help which Sian Berry’s Londonwide renters organisation would offer. In the meantime, I’ll flesh out that mass mobilisation idea.

The Sneering Liberal Elite

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Divide and rule has been the Conservative Party’s strategy since the beginning of time – nothing unites people more than a common enemy.  In the ’60s it was black people and all their crimes – those who were around at the time of 1964 elections will remember that they distributed leaflets that said, “If you want a coloured for your neighbour – vote Labour. If you are already burdened with one – vote Tory” In the ’80s it was gay people and their promiscuous lifestyles and diseases that were the problem – nothing that Section 28 couldn’t sort out. Immigrants from Pakistan, India, Poland and Turkey have all been made scapegoats for the country’s problems by Conservative politicians. Last week Theresa May announced the latest enemy of the state: The Liberal Elite.

It’s a term we’ve heard before. During the EU Referendum campaign it was one of Nigel Farage’s catchphrases, second only to, “Austrailian-style points system.” You can say what you like about Theresa May but she is a very shrewd politician. She knows that UKIP pose the greatest threat to the Conservatives at the next General Election and is attempting to attract those voters by creating the illusion that the Conservatives are the party for the working class. In her speech, May talked about creating a country “that works for everyone.” She said, “That means tackling unfairness and injustice, and shifting the balance of Britain decisively in favour of ordinary working class people. Giving them access to the opportunities that are too often the preserve of the privileged few.” words one is more accustomed to hearing from Labour, not the Conservatives. Incredibly, May plans to create a more equal and fair country whilst building new grammar schools, refusing to raise inheritance tax or building affordable housing. I digress.

May continued, “They [the Liberal Elite] find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns about immigration parochial, your views about crime illiberal,  your attachment to your job security inconvenient. They find the fact that more than seventeen million people voted to leave the European Union simply bewildering.” You can almost hear the Daily Mail whooping with joy.

So who exactly are the “Liberal Elite” and what can we do to defend ourselves from them? I spent the afternoon reading a range of blogs, articles and essays on this subject – at one point I even googled, “Why do people hate the liberal elite?” (Yes, I’m still on my honeymoon – am I not doing it right?) I’ve trawled the best (and the worst) of the internet to find out more about who this dangerous group really are.

First off, they live in cities. You won’t find the Liberal Elite in Clacton or Hartlepool, you have to look in cities like Manchester, Sheffield and York . London in particular, is infested with them; UKIP’s Suzanne Evans blames them on her party’s poor polling in the capital arguing that, “The educated, cultured and young are less likely to vote for us.” Politically, the Liberal Elite tend to be left-of-centre, but not exclusively. They are open-minded, believe immigration is, on the whole, a good thing, they are pro gay marriage, are more concerned with reform than retribution in the justice system, more likely to identify as feminists and they voted Remain in the referendum. They read “The Guardian”, drink flat whites and their breakfast, sorry “brunch,” is likely to be something to do with avocado. In their spare time they read, attend the theatre, go to museums, watch the BBC and travel. Bastards.

It gets worse. They buy free-range, sometimes eat kale by choice and tend not to smoke. They worry about the environment and global warming  – which is why so many of them own a bike.  By day they are nurses, writers, teachers, lawyers, actors, social workers, doctors and charity workers; some have their own businesses, others even work in the financial services. By night, they go to trendy restaurants and gastro-pubs where they hand over £7 for a glass of Malbec without flinching. If you’re still struggling to picture this dangerous group of individuals they are almost perfectly represented by the family in the sitcom, “Outnumbered.”

Oh and they sneer. A lot. In fact sneering is their main pastime other than drinking their fair trade coffee and quoting Stewart Lee to each other. I’ll be honest – I’ve not actually witnessed a lot of sneering myself but the Daily Mail said they do it so it must be true.

These are the wankers who have ruined the country. Even though those wankers tend to have a history of voting for the country to be more equal. They give money to charity, campaign to keep libraries open and to protect the NHS. They must be stopped.

I’ll be honest, apart from the “ruined the country” part – most of that is fairly accurate. Although I’ve yet to meet anyone who is happy about paying £7 for a glass of wine. Particularly when a bottle from the newsagent costs a fiver. Being part of the Liberal Elite isn’t about wealth; remember that due to exorbitant rents very few young people in London have money to burn. If I could whittle it down to just two traits it would be: tolerance and open-mindedness. It’s why the sneering comment is so unfair, as a group we’re incredibly accepting of people, whether or not they are similar to us. It’s just that, if you want to be tolerant, the one thing you can’t tolerate is intolerance.

We’re often criticised as being “out of touch” with the concerns the rest of the country has about immigration. The Express in particular likes to paint a picture of us sat in our ivory towers, in our elite bubbles, calling anyone who has concerns about immigration racist.

I live in a one bedroom flat in Wood Green, Haringey – one of the few parts of North London a teacher can live in and still afford to eat. In Wood Green only 23% of the population identify as White British, which is significantly lower than the London average of 45%. Until recently, I was an assistant head teacher in East London. I taught English to children (and parents) who had just moved to the UK. I ran after school sessions and gave up my weekends and my holidays to make sure those children could succeed. To say I am liberal in my views because I don’t understand the issues of immigration is not just ignorant – it is ridiculous. Particularly when you compare Wood Green to Clacton, UKIP’s one constituency, where the percentage of people who identify as White British is 93%. For those who like a visual – I’ve created some pie charts:

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Which of these demographics is less likely to understand the issues surrounding immigration?

So yes – we do like delis, bicycles and flat whites but we are kind, open-minded and tolerant people – and we will never apologise for that. Theresa May is playing a very clever game and, like so many other previous scapegoats, the Liberal Elite are being framed for a crime we did not commit.

 

Dear Job…

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Dear Job.

I like you a lot. You challenge me, motivate me and reward me. We’ve been together 6 years now and have shared some very special times. Because of you I’ve taught children to read, write, count and think. I have boxes upon boxes of thank you cards. Some from parents with beautifully written messages inside but most are drawings of me with three eyes and blue hair – I love them all.

Job you’ve made me a better person. I’m more patient, harder working and stronger than I was when we first got together. You’ve made me resilient. I can now sit in meetings about unspeakably horrible cases of child abuse and not even wince, let alone cry.

Without you Job, I would never have met so many of my closest friends or my future husband. You introduced me to politics and made me realise it was too important to be ambivalent about. It was because of you I went on my first rally.

I’ve learnt to speak publically, sung dozens of songs, ran clubs, written plays, stories and poems, dressed as a fish, dressed as a bear and baked a lot. I’ve learnt how to plot linear equations, play tag rugby and use a semi-colon. Job – all of these were opportunities you gave me. I am so grateful.

I’ve been the cause and the cure for tears. I’ve had thousands of children sing happy birthday to me. I’ve had the pleasure of watching 30 children see a baby chick hatch from an egg. I’ve watched light bulb moments and seen the frustration when a child just doesn’t “get it.”

Job at this point I also want to say thank you for the holidays.

However Job, there are some things you do that I don’t like. I don’t like that we spend 12 hours a day together and I really don’t like that you follow me home. I don’t like that you leave me with just 4 waking hours each day to spend time with my husband-to-be or to see my lovely friends and family. I don’t like that you constantly make me doubt myself and question whether I’m doing enough. I hate that no matter how hard I work the lives of the children I teach don’t seem to get any better. I resent that I spend most of the year grey and exhausted. If I’m honest Job – you’re becoming impossible.

I eagerly await your response.

 

 

 

What did you learn at Primary school?

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Those of you that follow me on social media, or work with me, or are taught by me, or have passed me on the street this week will know: I WENT TO QUESTION TIME! I was in the same room as Dimbleby!

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As if that wasn’t exciting enough the Man on the Piccadilly Line got picked to ask his question. The chances of this are so slim as the audience of 100 each submit 2 questions. Out of these 200 questions they choose just 6 and normally only have enough time to get through 4 or 5. His question was:

“Is the Government turning our schools into joyless exam factories?”

If you’re interested in what the Question Time panel had to say about this you can watch it here (54:58) He wrote the question following the announcement that the government wants to introduce tests at the end of KS1. This has confused a lot of people because children are already assessed at the end of KS1. They take tests and the teacher looks at all of their work from the year and then, using the information from the test and the class work, the teacher decides on a level. The new tests will be marked externally and the mark the child gets on the test will be the level they are given for the year – which is how it works with the end of KS2 assessments.

Much to our excitement, the question sparked debate on Twitter. Toby Young and Michael Rosen debated until the small hours and the conversation continued in our staff rooms the next day. Most teachers seemed to agree tests are a very useful way of assessing children’s understanding. The problem is when test scores become a stick to beat teachers and schools with. When schools are judged entirely on their test scores they HAVE to spend a disproportionate amount of time preparing for those tests. In some schools an average Year 6 day looks like this: Maths, English, Guided Reading and SPaG. It isn’t the fault of the teachers. It is the ever increasing pressure on schools to get higher and higher results year after year. As a result, most Primary schools are  sending pupils to Secondary school with good maths and English results but sadly they are becoming increasingly “switched off” from learning.

I sometimes look at my own class. They have such small worlds – some of them have never ventured out of Ilford. Last week I postponed a Guided Reading lesson to spend some time convincing a boy in my class that Turkey was a real country. Even when I showed him the map, photographs of Turkey and got two children to tell him what life in Turkey is like he didn’t seem convinced. Another day in the middle of an English lesson a girl said to me: “You’re a Christian because you’re English isn’t it Miss?” So we spent some time unpacking why she thought that. My class desperately need life experiences. Most of them don’t really understand why they’re at school at all. For so many of them school is a place they are dropped off at in the morning and collected from 6 hours later.  Every day needs to be fun and centred around learning through play and I do as much of that as I can.  At the end of this year they will take the new KS1 tests which will include a SPaG test. The results will be published, Ofsted will look at them and if they aren’t high enough there is every chance my school could become academised. It isn’t the testing I’m against it’s the fact that schools have to spend so much time teaching for the test they don’t have time to teach other, equally important, skills.

I started thinking back to my own Primary school education. I loved my Primary school. It’s the reason I became a teacher myself. Yes we did tests and maths and English but the experiences that have stayed with me were rarely those lessons. Here are my stand out memories:

  • In Year 5 we made a huge model of Smaug out of chicken wire. It was so big we had to move it in the playground to work on it. We spent days slapping on inches of paper mache and waiting impatiently for it to dry. After that there was days of painting and adding detail. It was amazing!
  • In Year 6 we made a Victorian street out of cereal boxes – I remember spending days adding detail to my Victorian house and the pride I felt when it was put on the wall.
  • I remember making toys out of junk model materials in Year 3. My friend Holly made a pair of shoes for our teacher using string and yoghurt pots. I remember our teacher doing a catwalk style walk for us. Interestingly, Holly is now a fashion designer.
  • I was in Year 5 when that song “I Believe I can Fly” by R Kelly was released and there was a teacher in my school who HATED it. So my class teacher taught us the song and we practised it every day for a week. Then one afternoon to perform it for this teacher just to wind her up.
  • I met my best friend Lizzie when made jelly together in Year 2. We’d also been in the same class in Year 1 but we hadn’t decided to be friends then.
  • In Reception we had a dentists’ chair in our classroom. Just because. We also had a Ghostbusters Art Gallery for all of our work that we opened to the public. I think I was a guide.
  • In Year 6 on hot days we’d go outside and read in the field under the trees. A couple of times our teacher bought us ice lollies.
  • In Year 4 Thursdays was our TV room day. We’d go to the TV room and watch Look and Read. It felt like it went on for a whole afternoon but I think it was probably 10 minutes. Geordie Racer anyone?
  • My Year 6 teacher gave me my love of poetry. We read the Lady of Shallot and drew pictures of her stuck in her tower.
  • The plays and assemblies. We had a big musical performance every year and a Christmas play as well as concerts and full class assemblies. In Reception the highlight of our class assembly was kicking down a large lego Berlin wall.
  • I was in the netball team. We never won anything if I remember correctly. I remember one day when, after losing 5 games in a row and our teachers took pity bought us Freddos.
  • Quiet reading – every day. 20 minutes of just reading for pleasure. Not writing about reading, answering questions about reading just reading. It was my favourite part of the day.
The more testing, the more pressure on schools, the more other subjects and experiences get “squeezed out”.
Finally, I think the biggest problem with these tests just aren’t equipping children with the skills they need for working in the 21st Century. Employers moan that young people are leaving school without “workplace” skills. Yes, you need a good grasp of maths, reading and writing but you also need to be able to find creative solutions to problems, to read people, to communicate well, to manage your time, to meet deadlines, to work well with others, show empathy etc… These are just some of the skills you need to succeed at work. At the moment schools have to spend their time jumping through hoops and working towards these tests that the “whole child” is being forgotten. Some school’s are better at fighting it than others and are insisting that their pupils become inquisitive, thoughtful, happy individuals as well as get Level 4s.
I was discussing this with a teacher friend on Friday night. She’s the sort of teacher you never forget. Her classroom is a magical, fun place full of fairy doors and bourbon biscuits. We were talking about how we manage the pressure for Maths and English results whilst at the same time teaching our pupils to be happy, well adjusted members of society. She tells her class, “if you learn nothing else in my class this year you will learn how to listen and how to get along with others.”
I’m not saying Maths and English shouldn’t be a priority in schools, nor am I suggesting that we should all build large chicken wire models of dragons every day but do I worry that we will end up with a generation of children who can perform very well in tests but will be switched off from learning in adult life.

 

Eat. Read. London.

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For a literature geek like myself London is a treasure trove of literary history. Walk through this marvellous city and you can find yourself in a pub with Keats, Byron and Shelley, strolling alongside Sherlock Holmes on your way to work or walking Kensington Gardens with Elinor Dashwood. London is full of nods to some of the most renowned authors and poets of all time. If you’re only partially/in no way interested in literature you’ll be relieved to know that many of these historically significant sites are also pubs. So, walk with me through my favourite parts of the city and I’ll share with you what you should eat, drink and read.

Fitzrovia

What Is It?

Famously the centre for artists and writers, Fitzrovia has been the stomping ground for Dylan Thomas, George Orwell and Virginia Woolf. It is well documented that Woolf walked the streets of London to clear her head of dark thoughts and get inspiration: “I’m so ugly. So old. Well, don’t think about it, and walk all over London; and see people and imagine their lives.”

Start by taking in Woolf’s home on Gordon Square which became the meeting place of the “Bloomsbury Group” – a group of writers and artists Woolf’s brother knew from Cambridge. Woolf would walk along Piccadilly, Whitehall and through the St James’ Park which I would recommend if you fancy stretching your legs. Make like Mrs Dalloway and buy yourself some flowers from the Flower Shop on Goodge Street on the way.

I’m Hungry!

Although she wasn’t a big drinker, Woolf was known to occasionally frequent the Fitzroy Tavern. Today it’s a Sam Smith’s pub which makes it one of the most reasonably priced places for a pint in London. All beers are vegan and additive free and there is also a very reasonable food menu.

If it’s too early for a drink then get yourself to Workshop Coffee for one of the best flat whites in the city served by the friendliest staff.

What Should I Read?

    

Baker Street

“It is my belief Watson, founded up my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

What Is It?

In case you’ve been living inside a tree for the whole of your life Baker Street station is beautifully clear about its literary fame. This is the only entry dedicated to the dwelling of a fictional character rather than the writer. You can go and visit the home of Arthur Conan Doyle (it’s in Norwood) but why would you when you can go to 221b Baker Street and have your photograph taken wearing a long coat and a deer stalker? The museum itself is well worth a look although be prepared to queue.

I’m Hungry!

The Volunteer

Nestled conveniently at the top of Baker Street is The Volunteer a cosy pub with log fires and comfy seats. Take a good friend and share a bottle of wine with one of their delicious roast dinners – there is no finer way to spend a Sunday afternoon. If you have the energy you can even have a game of Scrabble afterwards…

If you don’t have the luxury of an afternoon free to hole-up in a pub on Baker Street then never fear – take a quick walk to Marylebone Station to my new found favourite place in London: International Cheese. I could write a whole blog post about this place but I’d rather you went and experienced it for yourself. In fact, forget all the literary stuff and just go here. Now. Go, order the gorgonzola and apple croissant and a coffee and thank me later.

Cheese 1 Cheese 2

What Should I Read?

Hampstead

What Is It?

There are many reasons to visit Hampstead: the heath, the Everyman cinema, the pubs but next time you’re there take a walk to the home of John Keats. It is widely believed that Keats wrote “Ode To A Nightingale” whilst sitting under a plum tree in the garden of his Hampstead home. Look next door to see the home of Fanny Brawne (Keats and Brawne were a 19th Century Ross and Rachel.) Or at least they would have bene had Ross travelled to Italy and died of TB, alone and in terrible pain.

I’m Hungry!

Work up your appetite with a stroll through Hampstead Heath to Spaniards Inn – Keats’ preferred watering hole. An atmospheric pub with beams and dark wood panelling and an excellent menu. Order the steak sandwich and wash it down with one of their local brews.

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What Should I Read?

Highgate

What Is It?

Highgate Cemetery is the resting place of many a literary giant: Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Douglas Adams to name but a few. It’s certainly worth a respectful stroll and it backs on to Waterlow Park which is hands-down my favourite park in London.

Why are we here? Samuel Taylor Coleridge. For his final, drug-addled years Coleridge lived in Highgate with his friend (and doctor) James Gillman on The Grove. His house is not open to the public (although there was an opportunity to buy it a few years ago for those with a spare £7m lying around.)

I’m Hungry

In the evenings, Coleridge would wander over the road to one of my favourite pubs in London. I’ve dragged many a weary, hungover friend up the hill from Highgate station with the promise of the food here. It’s The Flask – a historic pub that claims to be the site of the first human autopsy and boasts Dick Turpin as a patron. Now I don’t know if either of those facts are a) true or b) related. What I do know is the Flask is the perfect place for risotto, crumble and a Mongozo banana beer or three. In fact, maybe just get a window seat and view Coleridge’s place from the warmth of the pub.

What Should I Read?

Clerkenwell

What Is It?

Love him or loathe him (and I LOVE him) you can’t write an article about London’s literature without mentioning Dickens. London is the opening word to Bleak House, one of his most famous novels. It’s difficult to pin down an area you should visit as Dickens wrote about vast areas of the city. Like Woolf, he would stroll the city for hours taking in his surroundings that he would later turn into vivid descriptive writing. I suppose, as always, his house is good place to start. It’s now been turned into a brilliant museum so jump off the Piccadilly Line at Russell Square and get yourself to 48 Doughty Street.

I’m Hungry!

“A man in a velveteen coat sits in the parlour of a low public house with a small glass strongly impregnated with the smell of liquor.”

The man in this case is Bill Sykes. The “low public house” is the fictional The Three Cripples. Surprisingly there is no pub that goes by that name but it is generally accepted that Dickens was writing with The One Tun in mind. Dickens was a patron of the pub between 1833 and 1838 and published the first instalment of “Oliver Twist” in 1837. Saffron Hill is a 10 minute walk from Dickens’ front door. There you’ll find The One Tun – order a small glass strongly impregnated with the smell of liquor and imagine you’re a Victorian pimp. 1833 the pub probably didn’t serve Thai food but we’re in 2015 so forget the authentic Victorian experience just this once and order the sambal prawns. Dickens would have done the same if he’d had the chance.

What Should I Read?