This is a reaction to the Cambridge News article regarding the shocking increase in the number of rough sleepers in the center of the city. As a word of warning, I am a rather passionate individual, so you should expect rougher language at times. If you are easily offended, then, well, fuck off.
I’ll start this by saying I am not even close to a rough sleeper, and it’s quite difficult for me to even imagine the amount of shit that living your life on the city’s pavement involves. I am an educated white male, born and raised in an urban environment, who has travelled and seen a lot. I am not specifying this for those who think that the whole age/race/sex/sexual orientation/religion thing is crap and doesn’t matter (I feel like that myself, and I can only hope most of my readers are the same), but for those who vote for racist, xenophobic, and just fucked up people and/or ideals (cough, cough brexit, trump, putin, marine le pen, cough, cough).
However, having just recently arrived into the UK (well, one year and five months, now), I would think of myself as someone who doesn’t have his head stuck up his arse as much as the authorities, the journalists and most UK natives I have met so far seem to have.
See, I arrived to this country with some savings, a nice and legal employment contract, and temporary accommodation (up to a month in a coworker’s place). I though that, with this in hand, together with the illusion that I was arriving in a civilised country, opening a bank account, finding a place to rent and getting around shouldn’t have been major issues, right?
My circumstances were quite similar to someone who, for some reason or another, has lived under society’s radar for quite a while. No tenancy contract with my name on it. No utility bill. No bank account. No NiNo. Just a bloke who wants to play fair, follow the rules and who would like to, ideally, hit the earth running and start paying taxes as soon as possible. As I soon found, however, the British society is quite unfriendly with anyone who wasn’t born and bred on this island, and who didn’t have the same path in life as their standardised individual. Anyone different.
I say “standardised individual” because I feel like everyone is expected to behave exactly the same around here. If you become non-standard in any way, by either just moving into the country or by somehow falling out of the country’s housing, employment, and banking system’s best graces, you are probably too much of a bother for anyone to take any “risk” with you. Actually, I think this is the gist of it: people are scared of risk, they want everything to be as safe as possible, even going to the extent of becoming absolutely ridiculous in the process. If you don’t fit the pattern, you are too much of a risk – and that’s it.
The interesting part is that the average brit you bump into at your Tesco or Coop doesn’t even realise this; if you ask them, this is the neatest and fairest country of them all, and they can’t even imagine how someone could ever say that they have a problem. And then they go along with their day, happily being part of the system that is marginalising everyone who isn’t somehow in debt and doesn’t hold a credit card in their pocket.
Another thing is that everything takes forever to happen around here. I think that people are disorganised, inefficient and lazy as fuck. And this is from a bloke who is coming from a country literally suffocated by an inefficient state system defined by ex-socialist bureaucracy and corruption. I believe this attitude to be to a combination of too much regulation in everything, combined with the french “je m’en fiche” (ah, mon dieu, I am comparing brits to french, the horror – get the fuck over it, you are basically brother and sister in the European context) and a generalised epidemic of risk-averseness to everything (really, just stop being fucking afraid of every. single. fucking. thing – like basic eye contact, not having an insurance for every single little thing or talking about interesting things, not idle talk).
Anyhow, back to the general tardiness and lack of fucks given. Everything needs to be done by appointment only, which is fair, but all appointments are made two, three, four weeks in advance. My Job Centre interview was scheduled for three weeks from the day I arrived into the country (I could not make an appointment in advance, because fuck me that’s why). After those three weeks, I was supposed to wait up to four more weeks to receive my NiNO. Mine arrived in one, which probably means I stepped in a big pile of shit and got lucky, but I’ve heard of people waiting for far more than the advertised four weeks.
Oh, but you know what the fun part is?
I had to wait for four weeks in order to receive the most basic of papers, the one that basically certifies I exist in this country. Without a NiNO, I cannot open a bank account (which, to be honest, seems quite sensible – one of the very few sensible things in this story, really).
However, you know what else happens after four weeks? The month is nearing its end, and I am supposed to receive my salary. In a British bank account. And nobody wants to touch cash, so… Tick-tock, tick-fucking-tock.
What rhymes with bankers?
I had then had to wait an additional 4 weeks in order to get a bank account. To open a bank account, they need to know who you are, and where you can be found.
Who you are is easy, use your passport, ID card, driving license. If you travel to a different country, you usually have that kind of ID with you.
Where you can be found, now that is a tad more difficult. You need to have a tenancy agreement, the Job Centre letter with the NiNO number on it (and the valid name and address on it – this is another story, apparently spelling your name in the NATO alphabet is not enough, and they will probably register you under whatever random indian-sounding name they think they heard), an utility bill, stuff like that. Without a bank account, I cannot easily rent a place, because it seems that in this country I cannot pay the security deposit in cash (rent would be ok, but only for the first two months, after that it cannot be paid in cash anymore). Without renting a place, I cannot get utility bills with my name on them. Oh, not that I could have any utilities connected without a bank account and direct debit (there are always pre-paid energy meters with huge rates, right?). One more thing that cannot happen without a bank account is, yes, receiving my fucking salary (because, yeah, cash is icky). One of the basic uses for a salary is to, you know, pay rent. See how the circle is closing here? Now, I had enough savings for a while, but it would have been nice not having to use those up for renting a place and paying utility bills (considering I would get a damn debit card issued to me in the first place). And, again, what if I didn’t have a few thousand pounds stashed away? Would I have been one of those nasty immigrants who bother everyone because, you know, of course it’s their fault?
This is perfection, really. Slow god damn fucking claps for the cock sucking wanker who designed this whole circular system. You, sir (or lady), are a brilliant arse hole.
However, the procedure should be a bit more relaxed for EU nationals, and different, more permissive, paperwork is accepted (like a letter from your employer and/or people who are temporarily hosting you, confirming your whereabouts and salary) – probably one of those EU measures that are frowned upon in the UK because they actually force people to be, you know, sensible. Relaxed or not, there is no obligation for a bank to accept a customer (really? how come they have this kind of freedom and I can’t say fuck you to the banking system and pay everywhere with cash???), so it really boils down to them on how they interpret the legislation.
For example, a bloke with fancy blonde hair from Lloyds (the one on Mitcham’s Corner, to be specific) told me that, while they do make all this bureaucratic shit a bit more decent and bearable for EU nationals, I do not qualify because I am Romanian and the country where I’m from is not part of the EU. Bewildered, and wondering if I didn’t inadvertently fucking travel back in time into the ’90s as soon as I stepped into his office, I asked him to verify this, which he apparently did. His answer, was that yes, it looks like Romania is part of the EU (didly doo you fucking ignorant piece of shit) but they still cannot open an account with the accepted EU paperwork because I am from Romania and, you know… computer says no.
It doesn’t stop here, because I then went across the street, to Barclays, where a nice lady took my paperwork, looked at it in silence for a good five minutes, said that everything is ok and all they need is in there, then typed in some stuff on the computer and told me that I should receive confirmation that my account has been created in a few days’ time. Should. Naturally, that didn’t happen, so I called them back and the same lady told me that I did not have all required paperwork, she can’t do anything about it (“it’s the security’s system, we can’t control that, sorry”) and then hung up on me. Again, another glorified “computer says no”.
Just a note, if by now you haven’t watched “Little Britain”, go watch it. They say it’s comedy, but it’s the god damn honest to god truth about how the people on this island are actually wired like.
I then went to Nationwide, Metro, Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, and a bunch of other shitholes-for-a-bank with more or less the same results, until I reached HSBC (actually that was one of the first banks I made an appointment with, only they set it for 4 weeks later so it ended up being the last one to “visit”) and finally got a fucking bank account. Looks like the Chinese people like my software engineer money. I wanted to fucking throw a party and invite the whole city, that’s how big the relief was when I went outside their branch and had an actual bank account. Like, I can get paid now.
I am a highly ambitious guy, who doesn’t give up easily, who had a nice warm place to sleep in, and who didn’t have any issues with procuring food and drinks (I know you are kind of proud of it, but most British beer is shit, sorry), had some money set aside, and was a phone call away from his family and loved ones.
And now we’re finally talking about you shitty attitude towards the housing crisis in the U fucking K. Now, how difficult do you think it would be for someone living under a god damned bridge, whose only house is a sleeping bag with some cardboard laid on the pavement, and who needs to resort to begging in order to afford lunch? How would he or she get a bank account? How the fuck could that individual work (legally) when every single employer wants to pay people via a bank transfer and asking for cash instead is like saying you want to fuck a pig in the arse (hello there, David).
Oh, and this is just getting a bank account. Getting my name on a tenancy agreement, that’s another pile of crap.
Oh, ye mighty landlord
There are two sides to this. You either go and rent privately, but this could be an issue since bankers are wankers (see, told you I’ll find a rhyme) and a private letting contract is, you see, just. not. good. enough. Bankers love agencies, probably because they are the same kind of scum and this is an economy based on adding as many intermediaries into the chain, so they will only be happy when the letterhead you show them is from some shit-for-faces agency. Renting privately, on the other hand, has the potential of being better than going through an agency for the sole reason that the landlord might actually give a fuck about the house’s condition and might actually act like a decent human being when you have an issue with the house’s state of repair. Or not, who knows what kind of asshole you might stumble upon.
Going through an agency, you will find that rent is higher and the house looks poorer, that you pay a shitload of money in fees for imaginary services to some wankers who can’t even spell their own fucking names properly, and that not a fuck is given when repair works need to be carried out (like not being able to open the god damn bedroom window for months on end – it was broken from July all the way to December, when I just said fuck you to the agency and ended the contract).
As a side note, you should take a picture of everything (and I do mean every. little. single. fucking. thing) the moment you move in and then spend a bunch of time compiling a response to their half-arsed inventory (where everything is, of course, marked as being in fair condition – what the fuck does “fair” mean???) because otherwise you will be fucked over threefold when you leave that place and end up not seeing a penny out of that hefty security deposit you had to pay when you moved in. Oh, and if you didn’t receive an inventory, you can be sure that there is one so detailed that you will dread the day you decided they are nice people and you don’t need to go that close to paranoia in order to save your ass (well, money, actually).
Speaking of which, security deposits are in-fucking-sane. How the hell would an individual with, let’s just say modest means, be able to come up with 150% of the rent upfront in order to pay for the security deposit? With the average rent for one bedroom in the city I live in (yes, just the bedroom, not a flat with one bedroom) being around 500 quid, that would be 750 quid for just the security deposit. A grand total 1250 for the first month of moving into a place. One shitty bedroom. Single.
Oh, and another pet peeve: sharing a house with strangers. I find that degrading if it’s done after college. I would imagine not being able to walk around in your pants (underwear) around the house is a common practice all over this country only because something as basic as a roof over your head tends to cost more than it should.
But going past the whole agency, inventory, security deposit, sharing a house with strangers shit, there’s something worse than being an Eastern European expat looking for rent (yeah, not immigrant, the term is “expat” for non-british people too, assholes). That is looking for rent while being on benefits, which is something that landlords seem run away faster from than Usain Bolt was when breaking the 100m world record. Why is that, I have no idea, I can only think they want to avoid damage to the property, damage which seems more likely when you are a pretentious scum who owns a house and thinks that people on benefits will throw parties which involve spreading Marmite on the walls. That security deposit to be used in case anything needs fixing? Nah, too much of a bother.
Actually, no, it’s because the uptight standard clean as snow and fair as shit individual thinks that people on benefits are alcoholics and druggies, including rough sleepers. Yes, you do, you judgemental arses.
Money, argent, plata, soldi, capisci?
And it’s money, again. Living in the UK, I got this feeling that someone is only worth the net amount of money you can pull out of their wallets.
It’s very subjective, I know, but before moving into this wreck of a house I am currently renting, I was a tenant for one month and a half with a live-in landlord and her soon-to-be husband. We shared the same hobbies, we were all motorcyclists, and I really felt like they were people who spoke the same language as I did. Not english, mind you, but the common language of freedom, the open road, twisties, and the joy of scraping the asphalt with your pegs. I got to consider them friends – and good ones for that matter. After all, they met my girlfriend, we went to motorcycle shows, we had rides together when I had my bike over, we went out to pubs, and I was invited to her birthday party.
However, they taught me that words are meaningless when money is involved, even among friends. I believe this to be a very cultural thing, since every British person I met so far seems to have money (or the lack of it) as one of their main discussion topics. This is actually quite weird, since one would expect this subject to have less importance in such a prosperous country. I mean, I thought people would talk more about enjoying life rather than not having enough cash, right? Then again, you did have this woman sitting on a gold throne, wearing a diamond-encrusted crown, telling you that further austerity measures are needed.
Long story short, having made the decision to go back to Bucharest, I had to go ahead and make arrangements for my leaving. Relocation for my stuff from here to Romania, and a short-term rent for a few months once my current tenancy contract will be over. Being a good planner, I asked them if the room was still available, told them when I needed it, and they said that yeah, I can count on them for those three months.
With this in mind, I figured I’d be able to afford a relaxed motorcycle trip across Europe so I can get my bike back home. I only went on to such a spending extravagance knowing that I had a place to stay in starting December, when the contract for the house I am renting will be over. On top of that, I wouldn’t have to save money for a security deposit since I knew the people and they knew me as an honest guy who keeps his word.
Half-way down the trip, I receive a text message from them, saying that they cannot afford waiting, and they will give the room to someone else.
Well, fuck, what can I do?
Continue the trip, get back to the UK and start looking for alternatives. I ended up renting a room in a house for 4 months from a stupid chinese landlady bitch who, at one point, would have rather eaten shit from under her nails than heat the god damn house over 13 degrees Celsius.
What now, gov’nor?
I find that the UK is a country whose society is, traditionally, a highly utilitarian one, where people are friendly with you only as long as you are of use to them, where your sole existence is build around consumption and being in debt to the financial system, and where everyone is focused on standardising everything and everyone.
Because everyone is so used with everything being standardised, the society is so numb, that it cannot possibly react in both a sensible way and in a timely fashion to anything that is different. Being unable to react leads to being unable to be introspective regarding their own flaws, which can only spiral down, deeper into the general numbness.
If you want to help the people who are sleeping rough, then change mentalities, don’t point your fingers to the houses that are not inhabited. The problem is not there, the problem is with you and how you are reacting to people who are different, be they foreign or rough sleepers.