November 1966. 50 years on is a time to reflect on one of the most iconic moments in social history with the launch of what became known as the docudrama, the depiction of real life events through the medium of TV drama. That monochrome film was Cathy Come Home in 1966 that reached an estimated audience of 1 in 5 of the UK population. The programme directed by Ken Loach, is perhaps without parallel in reaching deep into our collective human consciousness, shining a torch onto a dark episode in the history of housing and social care and rightly acknowledged as a brilliant piece of social reforming drama.
The programme showed, in stark reality, how real lives are shaped by the consequences of personal crisis, and how things can quickly spiral to impact not only on the ordinary lives of individuals and their children, but on the institutions and processes that form the scaffold around our idealised lives.
There are many thousands of organisations that owe their inspiration to that film, their vision, their determination to resolve the problems it raised. For some, it was immediate, like the homeless charity Shelter and Crisis. For others their organisations took many years to evolve, but nevertheless, their epicentre was Cathy Come Home.
While the film exposed the consequences of a falling out of the mundane regularity of life of a working class subject, for many, it also exposed different but related subjects. Its appeal was that as well as the common theme of homelessness, each viewer had different nerves pinched, each saw and interpreted a different cause. Social care, fostering, conditions of rented homes, housing law, injustice, homelessness, housing supply, assistance and more. Like Ray Bradbury’s story about time travel ‘A sound of thunder’, this seemingly small cause had a far reaching ripple effect on subsequent historic events including changes in law and practice.
I, like many others, have lost count of how many housing associations Cathy come home helped inspire or at least re-focus, rejuvenate, or the vast number of voluntary organisations it galvanised to rattle tins, raise funds and provide support to the vulnerable. Indeed the tenants’ movement in Wales was formed from the legacy of Cathy.
Today, as stories go, it’s difficult to compete against the constant exposure of news and events that shape our lives, like ribbons around a maple, they constantly spin into view momentarily, some more colourful than others. Today, it’s more difficult to achieve the same impact. But there are parallels with Loach’s most recent film ‘I Daniel Blake’, which exposes the harsh reality of again, personal crisis. This time however, the crisis highlighted is exacerbated by decisions not with the absence of assistance, but the unreasonably conditionality that restrict it at a time when there is so much excess by the few. So we continue to be indebted to Ken Loach, to his producers, researchers and writers who feel inspired to work with him and seek to draw attention to the injustices we experience.
50 years on, one thing is certain through these messages that provoke our thinking, is that we cannot resolve personal crisis, whatever form it takes, without first securing the home. To do so multiplies the costs of intervention tenfold, producing long-term irrevocable damage to those who suffer the impact. Homelessness is a form of punishment as a consequence of personal crisis, it provides no solution! but an enhanced societal problem for which we all pay.
It’s time we finally viewed housing as an indispensable part of ensuring human dignity. Not to ensure that nobody need be homeless 50 years on is either barbaric, incompetent or both. If we are to aspire to be portrayed as a modern caring society and overcome the prejudice of inequality, we must make the shift and recognise homelessness as something we need to eradicate in society.
Adequate housing is recognised as part of the right to an adequate standard of living in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, is in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of which the UK are signatories. The first step must be to end Section 21 no fault eviction and demand equality under the law and security of tenure for all with no eviction without proven fault in a court of law. The ultimate legacy of Cathy come home should be to shift our thinking once and for all and end this punitive practice.
There are many organisations seeking to achieve this and find solutions other than eviction when people face a crisis that puts at threat their home and shelter. We are one, join us, support us to strengthen the voice of renters in Wales regardless of who your landlord is.
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 The butterfly effect is the concept that small causes can have large effects. The idea that one butterfly could eventually have a far-reaching ripple effect on subsequent historic events appeared in “A Sound of Thunder”, a 1952 short story by Ray Bradbury about time travel.