TV Review – Cathy Come Home

10.40pm, 29 November

This documentary charted the progress of three homeless families, principally through the eyes of their children, Charlotte, 13, Chloe, 7, and Sarah, 15,  writes Janet Lancefield.

The misery in Charlotte’s family was painful to watch as her father valiantly held things together while caring for four children and an ill, despairing partner, who literally pulled her own hair out to relieve tension.

This family had been homeless for two years, during which time they had moved eight times between hostels, B&Bs and friends’ houses.

Chloe’s family had been declared “intentionally homeless” despite the fact that their late rent payments were caused by a mistake by the housing benefits office. This was acknowledged at the end of the programme but not before the family had watched strangers packing up their possessions in the only home Chloe had ever known.

Sarah’s family’s long stay in a B&B far from her school meant she did not sit her GCSEs. What came across was the resilience of the children, the stoicism of the adults and the helplessness of individuals against officialdom.

Chloe’s family was homeless because Chloe’s mother had assumed that the three organisations involved in her case would be working together. Charlotte’s family spent too long waiting in bus shelters while their Dad spoke to council officials and an adviser from Shelter.

The documentary was one-sided in that it did not show any interviews with the organisations involved. Lots of facts and figures were shown in stark black and white at intervals in the programme, but to the families and children involved it was very simple.

To quote Chloe, 7: “People shouldn’t lose their house because it’s so important to them.”

Janet Lancefield is a tutor and practice teacher for social work programmes at the University of Teesside

Cathy Come Home
11pm, 26 November

Forty years on from its first transmission and still this gritty “tell it like it is” drama has the power to shock, writes Les Bright.

Its first showing attracted 12 million viewers but this time it opened the “No Home” season on the BBC’s least watched channel. The play originally caused shockwaves that led to the founding of the campaigning charity Shelter. I vividly recall talking about it at school the next day. This was many years before the term “social action broadcasting” had been coined to describe a way of harnessing the power of the mass media.

This time around I found myself speculating whether one television programme could make such an impact today – probably not. The narrative is focused on two people falling in love and setting out to build their lives together – establishing a home and a family. But there is another darker tale of misfortune, being trapped and powerless to change the situation. Ray has a motoring accident and as a result cannot work. The family fall behind with their rent, get evicted and in short order move through a series of deeply depressing and increasingly unacceptable “solutions”, culminating in the children being forcibly removed. Along the way, they encounter the inflexible face of  1960s welfare. 
Broadcasting, housing and public welfare have all changed since Cathy’s plight attracted attention to the scandal of  homelessness. But maybe an even bigger change is in what attracts attention; where once politicians made pledges to build thousands of houses and journalists pursued them on their performance, they now vie for the most attractive policies on inheritance – the transfer of housing and wealth.

Les Bright is an independent consultant


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