It is very hard to make sense of what the next few days will be like, let alone the rest of April given that the numbers of deaths and illnesses related to C-19 are appearing to rise across the nation at a very significant rate and here in Sussex although the numbers are still relatively small, the expectation is that the peak is still many days away. The challenge of course is for all of us to maintain the response which we have been asked to achieve, for our own sake as well as for other people whose lives are at a much greater risk. For some of us being home based and required to remain in the same space for most of each day, the experience can feel very frustrating although of course it is a great opportunity to deal with matters that may have needed dealing with some time ago. Inevitably the lack of open shops does not help with this but nevertheless some issues can be dealt with in this period which gives us a good outcome. Sadly some of us are unable to do very much at all and are located in settings with very little space as described a couple of weeks ago in the House of Commons by Meg Hillier “Many of my constituents live in severely overcrowded accommodation or in single hostel rooms..what will the Secretary of State do about those people and what advice will he give?” Sadly the response at the time from Matt Hancock was rather inept “we encourage people to get outside, even if they are in household isolation, so long as they do not come into contact with others.” And there is currently very little prospect of such an issue to be resolved. However and that is a big However, it seems reasonable as we face such a challenging period ahead of us, that we call on politicians from all parties and indeed on people who are not associated with any political party but who have the capacity to stand in future elections, to begin to raise suggestions for housing provision that will ensure that in the future the residential experiences of some people will be so much better. The same is true for the individuals who have in the last few days been removed from our streets and across the whole nation. Their temporary arrangements are not going to last forever and our society needs to find a way for the future that will make street homelessness a very rare event.
Along with the need to provide permanent, higher quality housing for some very vulnerable people such as the street homeless and those in settings described by Meg Hillier it is clear that the shape and layout of our future communities also needs to be reconsidered. The reality is that our planning arrangements for new residential settings that have been set out by the Government have raised concerns amongst many organisations including the Local Government Association and planning experts including a friend of mine, Catriona Riddell. Catriona has written about the mistake of allowing flats to be developed that contain no windows and although she is not Brighton based, her concern about a lack of garden spaces is also very understandable. Sadly as she explained, “the government has so far been deaf to this outcry, and has hinted that its forthcoming planning reforms will expand permitted development rights even further.” So the challenge is what we can do to change things. It is clear that our current Government and other parts of the public sector are struggling to resolve matters such as C-19 tests and ventilators, even though they have turned down some options or failed to respond quickly enough. Along with these challenges they have had problems regarding visual sessions to take place using secure systems and equally other agencies are finding it hard to set up accessible meetings for wider ranges of people. Also the politicians who are supposed to be communicating with us through conventional methods such as press conferences and interviews seem incapable of clear and credible messages. The claim by Michael Gove that “the date of the peak depends on all of our behaviour – it’s not a fixed date in the calendar like Easter” demonstrates that he has forgotten that Easter changes its date each year and that two different dates take place every year depending on one’s religious group. Perhaps whilst many of us are taking time off from our normal work, that some people who have never been involved in politics in the past but can understand the need for better procurement, better technology, credible communication and better planning could consider ways of improving our public provision through, or outside of, the political structures that we currently get to vote for!