The Independent London Newspaper
23rd October 2017

NEW JOURNAL COMMENT: How did evicted ex-soldier fall through the cracks?

    Raymond Charles

    Raymond Charles - after the 59-year-old was evicted from his flat - with his cat on the Rowley Way estate

    Published: 20 October, 2016

    THE plight of Raymond Charles gets the blood boiling in the veins.

    A withered and ageing man, an ex-serviceman scarred by the bloodiest of conflicts, left alone with just his cat for a companion and a rucksack of belongings for a pillow, sleeping rough on an estate’s stone-floored bins room.

    There is an unsettling wretchedness to the scene in the bowels of the Rowley Way estate. 

    The Town Hall categorically states it is justified in removing him from his home after 20 years and will always seek to “protect its assets”. By the letter of the law, they may be right. But according to his long-term neighbours, his case may not be so cut and dry. 

    Is there not a moral obligation here? 

    Camden’s residents are assets too, and they are also in need protection.

    What would Neave Brown, the estate’s celebrated architect, have to say of Mr Charles? He designed the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate, more commonly known as Rowley Way, as a practical or pragmatic solution to the housing crisis. It was not just a place for people to live, but part of a progressive “idea system”.

    The 1970s were heady days, in politics and in housing, and at the time it would have been hard to imagine a long-term tenant of the estate falling through the cracks in this way.

    The neglect of war veterans is well documented. Decades can pass before the full mental toll of a conflict is felt by returning servicemen. Mr Charles appears to be a man of few words, but there may be a reason for that.

    Mr Charles’ story is timely as it comes in the week that Ken Loach’s new film screens in British cinemas.

    I, Daniel Blake shows how the welfare safety-net, which the post-war generation were rightly proud of, has been left hanging loose and ragged by years of cuts disguised as re-organisation and modernisation.

    The film highlights the attempts by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to change the way the welfare state is perceived and shows how the people who rely upon it are demonised. Perhaps, both these harrowing stories can help focus the mind and think how the system is working for those that need it most.

    A priority for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party must not just be to reverse the bedroom tax, the back-to-work medical assessments, and the sanctioning of people who cannot find work. It must also be to restore a progressive “idea system” to the country’s welfare and housing policy, and try to nurture the basic civic value of looking after one another.