Andy Worthington Joins Panel at Homeless Film Festival’s 50th Anniversary Screening of Ken Loach’s ‘Cathy Come Home’, LCC, Fri. Nov. 18


A poster for 'Cathy Come Home', the TV drama written by Jeremy Sandford and directed by Ken Loach, that was first broadcast by the BBC on November 16, 1966.Please support my work as a freelance investigative journalist.


I’m delighted to have been added, as a commentator on Britain’s housing crisis, to a panel discussion taking place after a screening this Friday, November 18, of ‘Cathy Come Home’ at London College of Communication, at the Elephant & Castle, London SE1 6SB. The screening marks the 50th anniversary of the broadcast of this hugely important drama about homelessness, written by Jeremy Sandford and directed by Ken Loach, and first broadcast on November 16, 1966, in the BBC’s series, ‘The Wednesday Play,’ which aired between 1964 and 1970, tackling contemporary social issues that might not otherwise have reached a wide audience. Also screening is a short film about London’s homelessness crisis by photographer Don McCullin. Thanks to Polly Nash for adding me to the panel.

The event is part of the Homeless Film Festival, and it runs from 6.30-9pm in Lecture Theatre B at the LCC. Also on the panel is a very good friend of mine, Val Stevenson, Chair of The Pavement, the magazine for homeless people, and Michael Chandler, Programme Director of Cardboard Citizens who make life changing theatre with and for homeless people. The page for the event is here. Please note that it is free, but booking is required.

Writing about the importance of ‘Cathy Come Home’ this summer, and the impact of homelessness and housing stress on people’s mental health, journalist and author Clare Allan, in an article for the Guardian, wrote how “this drama about a young mother caught in an impossible, inhuman system, which leaves her homeless, destroys her marriage and ultimately robs her of her children, led to public outrage, a surge in donations to the charity Shelter and the founding of the charity Crisis the following year.”

She added, “I wasn’t born when the film was first shown, yet the sense of hopelessness it conveys, the spectre of the individual smashed repeatedly against the rocks of a rigid, impersonal system is shockingly familiar. Familiar, too, is the misattribution of blame to the individual, rather than acknowledging the wider causes of their situation. Unscrupulous landlords, family breakdown, a negligent employer, and, above all, a dearth of affordable housing are the true cause of Cathy’s predicament and yet she is told again and again to ‘sort herself out’, as though all that is lacking is an adequate exertion of will.”

Since the Tories got back into power in 2010, the demonisation of the most vulnerable members of society — those that a decent, caring society would recognise the need to look after — has been profoundly shameful and seemingly unstoppable. The unemployed, who are without jobs mostly through no fault of their own, have been portrayed as lazy, as shirkers and scroungers, to facilitate a clampdown on the meagre benefits paid out to the unemployed (see my articles here), and people with mental and/or physical disabilities that make it impossible for them to work, or that would pretty much guarantee that they would never be chosen over someone without disabilities, have been portrayed as lying about their disabilities, and forced to go through assessments cynically designed to find them fit for work, which have led to numerous suicides.

As a result of both of these cannibalistic government assaults on the people they are supposed to represent, homelessness is increasing, although the major contributor is the deeply shocking and seemingly endless housing bubble that has become the main driver of the British economy over the last 18 years. The bubble is partly explained as the result of an under-investment in new housing since the days of Margaret Thatcher, who started the rot with the sell-off of council housing, but banned councils from building any new social housing. However, the main driver is greed: the greed of individuals, of banks, of the government, and of the numerous levels of leeches — lawyers, estate agents and various go-betweens — that sustain the housing market.

In a bubble artificially sustained (despite the crash of the economy in 2008 as a result of the unfettered greed of bankers), even well-paid professionals cannot get on the housing ladder in London and the south east, and young people are having to leave the capital because they cannot afford rents that are unregulated, and that are raised at a whim by unscrupulous landlords. It can now cost a couple £15,000 or £20,000 a year to rent somewhere to live, but while those with guaranteed work and decent pay can perhaps rebuild their lives elsewhere, others are, understandably, falling off the ladder completely.

As I wrote after attending a protest against homelessness in April 2015, just before the last General Election:

Homelessness has increased by 55% since the Tory-led coalition government came to power, and, of course, has increased specifically because of the introduction of certain disgraceful policies — the benefit cap, which attempted to portray those receiving benefits as the problem, when the real problem is greedy landlords; and the bedroom tax, whereby a cabinet of millionaires, with more rooms than they can count, passed legislation forcing people on benefits living in social housing who are deemed to have a “spare room” to downsize, even though there are few smaller properties to move to, and many people, treated as worthless “units” by the government and kicked out of their homes, have had to be rehoused in the private sector, thereby increasing the overall housing benefit bill.

An article in the Guardian last June stated that, in 2013, “112,070 people declared themselves homeless in England — a 26% increase in four years. At the same time, the number of people sleeping rough in London grew by 75% to a staggering 6,437.” In addition, as the Streets of London website notes, there are also “around 400,000 ‘hidden homeless’ in the UK, living out of sight in hostels, B&Bs, ‘sofa-surfing’ or squatting.”

At that protest, I also met John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlingdon (and not, at the time, the Shadow Chancellor), who I described, accurately, as “one of Parliament’s great fighters against all forms of injustice.” I added, “John and I know each other through working to free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, but at the March for the Homeless we spoke mainly about London’s housing woes. He showed me a depressing photo of a one-room, damp-infested shed rented to a family for £400 a month in his constituency that he had recently visited, and lamented that Gordon Brown never understood the importance of social housing, apparently trusting the private sector to provide for people’s needs — something that, of course, was a fundamentally groundless hope.”

Since the Tories got back into power in May 2015 — without even the pitiful levels of restraint provided by the Lib Dems — the situation has continued to get worse. Housing continues to be a bubble tended assiduously by the Tories that is unrelated to ordinary people’s lives, with the government, housing developers, builders and the banks functioning as pimps for speculators and criminals from all around the world, maintaining a high-end, “luxury” housing bubble that guarantees eye-wateringly huge profits to the few, while fundamentally being a betrayal of the majority of the British people.

The latest horror from the government is an increase to the overall benefit cap first introduced by George Osborne, which, experts are warning, could lead to at least 250,000 children being made homeless. As I explained in an analysis of this latest wretched development (which was initiated by Osborne before he lost his job after the EU referendum debacle, but has not been stopped by the dismal Theresa May):

The benefit cap was introduced in April 2013, capping at £26,000 the total amount that any family can receive in benefits, which might have sounded fair to anyone who wasn’t really paying attention. A little thought, however, would reveal that the majority of that money went not to the claimant, but to their landlord.

In July 2015, Osborne’s wheeze, which had played well with tabloid-reading British citizens, encouraged by the likes of the Daily Mail and the Sun to regard welfare claimants as vermin, was further reinforced, with a reduction in the welfare cap from £26,000 to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere, beginning yesterday, November 7.

In the Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty explained how, from last Monday, “88,000 families across Britain will have their housing benefit slashed. They will no longer have the cash to pay their rent. Among all those whose lives will be turned upside down will be a quarter of a million children. That’s enough kids to fill 350 primary schools, all facing homelessness.”

50 years on from ‘Cathy Come Home’, it is shameful that we should need to watch it not as a historical document, but as a reminder of how, fundamentally, the progress made after its broadcast has been rolled back from the time of Margaret Thatcher onwards, and it is also worth reflecting on how the sense of outrage prompted by its broadcast is almost impossible to imagine nowadays.

Encouraged by a cynical media, by flint-hearted politicians and by the atomising effects of technology (encouraging people to be self-obsessed, and, often, to have a bloated and groundless sense of entitlement and a simultaneous sense of being hard done by), increasing numbers of our fellow citizens are showing no concern whatsoever for those less fortunate than themselves, whether their fellow citizens for whom the safety net of the welfare state has unravelled, or refugees fleeing death and destruction, who, like everyone whose lives fall apart through no fault of their own, are portrayed as scroungers, and as worthless.

In conclusion, I’d like to reflect on the failures of the broadcast media to recognise the importance of dramas like ‘Cathy Come Home.’ As Ken Loach has stated recently, in discussions prompted by the success (in cinemas) of his latest film, ‘I, Daniel Blake,’ which confronts the heartbreaking realities of the Tories’ austerity programme, in today’s environment ‘Cathy Come Home’ would not have been made. As he put it, “Those ideas would be killed before they got anywhere near the screen.”

If you’re in London this Friday, I hope to see you at the screening. If you can’t make it, please be aware that all Ken Loach’s films, including ‘Cathy Come Home,’ are available to rent on his YouTube channel, where some of his TV dramas are also available for free.

Note: For further information about Ken Loach, please check out this recent Guardian interview, ‘If you’re not angry, what kind of person are you?’

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    I’ve just been added to the panel discussion following a 50th anniversary screening of ‘Cathy Come Home’ this Friday at London College of Communication, London SE1, as a result of my writing over the years on Britain’s housing crisis. Written by Jeremy Sandford, directed by Ken Loach and shown by the BBC, it highlighted the scandal of homelessness and prompted action to tackle it. Now homelessness is back with a vengeance, but our society, sadly, appears to be becoming in general so cold-hearted that people don’t care, and the Tories in government are interested only in sustaining an artificial housing bubble for foreign investors and the rich, and punishing everyone without a mortgage, as I discuss in detail in the article that accompanies this listing. Also on the panel: Val Stevenson of The Pavement magazine and Michael Chandler of Cardboard Citizens.

  2. damo says...

    at least in america they have trailer parks…….here becouse most of the land was stolen by the parasitical windsors theres no land for trailers ……oh i forgot the nimbys would be screeming blue murder….i walked down the depressing king street hammersmith yesturday there was a homeless person every 50 feet i mean realy distroyed people just smashed by this foul excuse for a society thease poor bastards have given up just covered in shit piss vomit …driven mad…..litteraly waiting to die …… the road all thease c..nty estate agents and a few blocks……behind…brackenbury village…no luv don’t you mean brackenbury road ..isnt that the one which used to have the scrapyard on it……lol…..its like day of the dead on king street

  3. damo says...

    you know like when you see an old pidgen waiting to die how it no longer flys it just sits there on the pavement waiting to die the homeless on king street and chiswick high street remind me of those pidgens waiting to die all the while esp in chiswick high street surrounded by the repelant rich nibbleing and slurping away on expencive bullshit not even noticeing or even careing …..what a sad sad sad excuse of a society we live in …a society were greed selfishness horror abuse and war …….are the new gods

  4. damo says...

    it just seems theres no respite andy from the wanters ie the corperates the rich the government there they are hands out palm open…give me ….give me….give me……there need and greed is never ending…i need more i want more …we demand more to keep ……..our lavish lifestyles going …to keep us in the manner to which were acustomed…….and they call people on benefits and the disabled…scroungers

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s the Brackenbury Village website, Damo:
    Like everywhere else in London, the aspirational middle class pretending they live in a village, and not in a massive metropolis in which everything is connected and the dark forces of greed are driving ever more people into the kind of poverty that appalled decent people in the 1960s when ‘Cathy Come Home’ was made.
    I lived briefly in Hammersmith in the late 80s, and when I went back in February 2013 for the first time in many years I was surprised by how poor King Street looked at the time. I was visiting, from the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital, to show solidarity with the campaign to save west London’s hospitals, but what was noticeable to me was how much more demoralised Hammersmith, then in the hands of a vile Tory council, was compared to Lewisham, where, although the Labour-run council is not without its considerable problems, the spirit of the people had not been crushed like Hammersmith seemed to be.
    My photos are report on that visit are here:
    I’ve been back to Hammersmith since, and I’m aware that the poverty seems to be biting even harder, despite the Tories losing the council, but across London we’re all being strangled by this wretched government, and we need to fight back. I wish the Labour councils would all come together to resist the endless cuts, but we don’t see that kind of solidarity anymore, unfortunately.

  6. damo says...

    but why …..why andy are we not seeing that kind of solidarity we need it more than ever now

  7. damo says...

    lol i looked at the brackenbury………village webshite……..ewwwwww…….not a black asian or ethnic face to be seen not even a poor white either……..but lots of artistic ….directors…poets……lol lol and even…..toby young…lol lol lol lol……………….naff

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Don’t get me started on Toby Young, Damo. I think a moral code for life could be easily established by looking at whatever he advocates and doing the opposite.
    But yes, where is the unrest? There are obviously two problems. One is the loss of middle class stroppiness, while the other is the disappearance of working class agitation. We seem to have comfort, apathy, indifference, hard work and misdirection (of the UKIP kind) to blame, but we’re obviously all still looking for what the trigger for a non-right wing uprising is, which is evidently well hidden.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s a photo from the panel discussion:

    As I wrote:

    So pleased to have been part of this panel discussion on homelessness yesterday at London College of Communication after a screening of ‘Cathy Come Home’, written by Jeremy Sandford and directed by Ken Loach, on its 50th anniversary. It was a great turnout for the last night of the festival, and watching the film made us sad, angry and incredulous that, 50 years on from the uproar that greeted ‘Cathy,’ the homeless situation is even worse, but mass outrage seems extremely unlikely, as hardheartedness and self-absorption seem to be so deeply entrenched. From L to R: festival director Dean Brocklehurst, Michael Chandler of Cardboard Citizens, Val Stevenson of The Pavement and me, during what was a lively and thoughtful Q&A session. Thanks to everyone involved, including Polly Nash at LCC, and thanks also to the attentive and appreciative audience.

  10. damo says...

    im watching andrew marr he s such an areshole endlessly giving a platform for the right wing again a brexit means brexit weirdo a monster from the sun ….anyone from the left he talks at and over he’s got michael stipe from rem on and is just talking at him…….michael stipe is not impressed ……andy this is how the sane good thinking people of the world view this country our politicians have made and are makeing us look like aresholes

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s hard to argue wth that, Damo. I’m so disappointed by the BBC that I can barely manage to watch any of their news output these days – Newsnight, yes (with reservations, obviously), but not the main news (and definitely not “school bitch” Laura Kuenssberg), not Question Time, not Andrew Marr. The news is much better on ITV (and especially Tom Bradby, who has a healthy skepticism, which he often doesn’t disguise) and even Sky News, despite it being owned by Murdoch.

  12. damo says...

    you know wot andy the itv news is becomeing the only non biased news to watch forgette the bbc it needs to be dissmantled

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the BBC showed any interest in how they’re perceived by the people rather than by the politicians, Damo? There’s a real groundswell of opposition to them on the broad left of politics now – the centre-left, as well as the harder left – because of their persistent bias. I have to stay that I really do wish they’d get rid of Laura Kuennsberg. She sounds patronising, she all too clearly loves the power of being the person politicians relay their spin to, but mainly she’s not impartial, and is obviously too close to the Conservative establishment.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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