Cathy come home: 50 years on

9 November 2016 | 9 November 2016

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It has been 50 years since the film Cathy Come Home, directed by Ken Loach, was first screened. This film, which depicts the story of a young mother who becomes homeless and has her children taken away from her, sparked a national outcry for change and resulted in the founding of the charity Crisis.

This year Loach’s new film I ‘Daniel Blake was released. The film portrays its two main character’s struggle to steer themselves through the UK’s complex and inflexible welfare and sanctions regime with tragic consequences.

We asked our Strategic Policy Analyst, Natalie Pearton, who has watched both films what personal effect the films had on her and what their relevance is to today’s housing situation.

A powerful and tragic story

I first watched Cathy Come Home about 10 years ago when I first started working at Sovereign. I had fallen into working in housing, like most of us seem to do, and had started studying for a CIH diploma in housing. We watched the film in class and the film completely took my breath away; it was so powerful and told such a tragic story.

Watching Cathy Come Home reaffirmed three things for me; firstly the film taught me just how important it is for everybody to have a safe, secure and good quality home and how quickly things can go wrong when this is threatened. Secondly, it showed me that it only takes one or two unfortunate incidents, such as a redundancy or an illness, to lead families or individuals into homelessness.

Finally, it instilled in me a passion about housing and made me want to carry on working in the sector and doing everything I could, and learn everything I could to help people like Cathy and her family.

I re-watched the film last night and it saddened and angered me how much has not changed since the film was aired 50 years ago. So much about the housing crisis that the UK faced in the 1960s is the same as the crisis we now face again today.

In the film we learn that there is a massive shortage of housing. This shortage allowed private sector landlords to be picky about whom they rented their homes to. Due to demand they knew they could rent out small and extremely bad quality homes without fear of the tenants complaining about conditions.

This is a pattern that we are increasingly seeing in the UK now where private landlords, due to the lack of homes, are able to rent out homes of decreasing quality, safety and size. The number of revenge evictions is also reported to be growing.

In the film we see tens of thousands of families with young children who have nowhere to live and are housed by the Government in unsuitable temporary housing. Again, this is a picture we are increasingly witnessing in current times with young families forced to live in inappropriate temporary accommodation. Just this week the charity Shelter have announced that 120,000 children will wake up homeless on Christmas day.

50 years on

I also recently watched Ken Loach’s new film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and one of the starkest similarities between then and now is the sense of hopelessness the characters feel as they are pushed through a similarly impersonal welfare and housing system. They are blamed for their failure to improve their situation even though the welfare system and the current housing crisis itself prevent them from changing their situation.

The one line that struck me whilst watching Cathy Come Home last night was “We need a government that recognises that there is a housing crisis; and treats it as such.” At the time the Government did respond with the large scale development of social housing to fill the shortage of affordable homes.

We must hope that through the upcoming Autumn Statement, on the 23 November, and Housing White Paper that our Government recognise the housing crisis we are currently facing and take real steps to appease it.