Denise Robertson: 'Can't Pay? We'll take it away!' has opened my eyes to how powerless some people are

Journal columnist and TV agony aunt Denise Robertson on how the system widens the gulf between the haves and the have nots

© Touch CPWP Can't Pay? We'll Take it Away!
Can't Pay? We'll Take it Away!

Channel 5’s ‘Can’t Pay? We’ll take it away!’ has opened my eyes to how totally powerless some people are.

Court bailiffs repossessed 41,195 properties on behalf of landlords in the 12 months to September, a 49% increase on evictions over four years ago.

I accept that landlords need redress if they don’t get paid but, until I watched ‘Can’t Pay’, I didn’t know a woman with two children, who, until she was made redundant, had always paid her rent, could be put on the pavement, together with the contents of her home, at an hour’s notice.

The bailiffs, decent men, told her she must leave now with her children and immediate possessions but could get the rest once she found accommodation. Then another enforcer turned up with another piece of paper. Her landlord had sold the property, the new owner wanted everything out in an hour.

We left her trudging to the council offices to beg accommodation, pram on one hand, toddler on the other, her possessions on the pavement or, temporarily, in the bailiff’s van.

Another tenant was moved out of one flat and into another halfway through his contract. The landlord wouldn’t let him take his furniture and the cramped new flat, where his young family were sleeping on the floor, was £500 a week. A van driver, he couldn’t afford £500 and the landlord got an eviction order. His satisfied grin as the repossession took place was loathsome!

The bailiffs thought the situation unjust but out the family went. We last saw them sitting in their car, the man weeping at the wheel. The real rogues pursued by the bailiffs could immediately ring their solicitors to gain legal loopholes. The destitute had no representation and no one to turn to but the local council. No programme has ever made me more aware of the gulf between haves and have-nots in this country.

Talk of privatisation of the NHS is scary, sounding as though hospitals are going to be sold off and closed to the rest of us.

Reportedly, only about 6% of the NHS budget is going to private contractors, which hardly justifies the accusation, by the Deputy Chairman of the BMA, that a free NHS is on ‘the brink of extinction’.

In 2006/7, under Labour, 2.8% of contracts went to private contractors. Now it’s a reported 6.1%. That’s a rise so we need to keep watch but talk of the brink of extinction is a bar to sensible discussion.

In my contacts with medical charities I see miracles performed but the NHS is tottering under the weight of debt and top-heavy management.

No party can escape blame for the present situation. PFI, the system by which hospitals are built by private investors, who take huge interest on repayment and service contracts, was condemned by Labour when implemented by John Major’s Conservative government.

That didn’t stop the Blair government enthusiastically expanding it. Now NHS hospitals owe a reported £80bn in PFI loan unitary charges – the ongoing costs of maintaining hospitals and paying back loans.

Next year, trusts will make a reported £2bn in repayments, wiping out extra money promised to fund the NHS.

Add to that the fact that the number of NHS managers being paid around £300,000 a year has doubled in 12 months, and you can see the mess we’re in. 44 ‘interim’ executives were employed in 2013-14 on rates of £1000 a day. One received the equivalent of £620,000 per annum for ten months work while frontline staff suffered a pay freeze.

Successive governments failed to train enough nurses and doctors so we poach nurses from the impoverished countries which trained them and pay locum doctors £2000 a day to plug the gap. In addition, the number of beds available has been falling for the last ten years. We now have a reported 2.8 beds per thousand population. Germany has a reported 8.3 and France 6.3.Are the political parties going to indulge in a mud-slinging battle or roll up their sleeves and sort out the mess they jointly created?

I have written of my admiration for the individuals and groups within Israel working to bring about a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Now an effort to build bridges has been snuffed out by Hamas. Authorities in the Gaza Strip have prevented a group of Palestinian children orphaned in the July-August war from making a goodwill visit to the Jewish state.The children were to have toured Arab towns as well as areas that had been under threat of Gaza rockets, attend a performance by a Jewish-Arab band and visit a mixed-race school. The schedule also included a meeting with Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.

A spokesman for the Hamas-ruled Interior Ministry in Gaza, said the children had been stopped from crossing into Israel “to preserve the culture and tradition of our people”. The charity Candle for Peace, who organised the trip, called the cancellation a mistake. Not just a mistake but a tragic missed opportunity.

The Sunday Times Critic, AA Gill, thought Victoria Wood’s ‘That Day We Sang’ ‘flabby and unencumbered by originality’.

For me, it was the hit of Christmas TV, moving, tuneful and funny. Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton were faultless, the cameo by Dad’s Army’s Ian Lavender superb and if the juvenile lead, Harvey Chaisty, isn’t a star in the making I’m a doughnut.

I can’t bear to delete it from my Sky player and have replayed it so often that a worried Him Indoors asked, anxiously, if I was going to play it every day in 2015. I think I probably am.


David Whetstone
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Graeme Whitfield
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