“I can’t even let my child go out to water his tomato plants. He has to watch me do it.”
Nathan is a single parent; he lives with his two children in a one-bedroom ninth-floor flat in Lambeth. He has been trying to get a two-bedroom, but he is not a priority because of the housing shortage engulfing London.
He describes himself as a ‘hard worker but spiralling costs, the toxic mix of high rents, lack of social housing, childcare costs and a reliance on zero-hour contracts, it is unlikely there will be a time when he doesn’t rely on support.
A one-bedroom flat
The average cost of renting a private one-bedroom flat in London is £1200 in 2019/20. A world where he has his own bedroom is a fantasy at this point.
“I am Band C, so you are normally going to wait 10-15 years on the housing register before you get bumper up [to an extra bedroom]. If you get band D,” Nathan blows out his cheeks, “you are going to die before you move up anywhere.”
“My children are just getting bigger quite rapidly, to be honest. Everyone is on top of each other; no one has their own space; you know what I mean.
“Because they are both boys, they are trying to be the alphas of the house; they clash soo much. I don’t have my space. And I have to say, ‘Come on Nathan,’ I just have to get on with it,
“I am like,” He breathes out heavily and shrugs, “I can breathe now it’s the end of the day. I can sit down, my kids are in bed, bathed, read them a story, give them a hot drink, whatever, cuddle. It’s hard. That’s why I am pushing to get a two-bedroom.
Ninth Floor Flat
“What makes it even worse is that we are on the ninth floor. So that should cause a red flag for anyone to be that high. I won’t even let my children go on my balcony; that’s how real it is. My eldest knows not to do certain things, but sometimes he will push the limits. So, in my head, I know I can’t allow it. I can’t even let him go and water his tomato plant. He’s got to watch me do it. I don’t play that game.”
Like most young parents we talked to about poverty, it’s not something they associate with themselves. They imagine starving children and no home and no food. Yes, they agree things are hard, but it’s not how they see poverty. A lot will have grown up in what would be defined as poverty.
Lawrence, our Young Fathers Practitioner, explained, “When they come to be a young parent, they are just carrying on living in similar circumstances as they did as children. This is just their norm. They often know the system better than we do. I don’t think dads get enough support, and I should be clear; I don’t even think young mums are getting enough support. For a lot of them, I can’t see a time when they will be able to afford housing in London without some sort of support. To me, this isn’t getting out of poverty.”
“The biggest issue we are dealing with is mental health, and I am not talking about clinical disorders where they need to see a doctor; it’s about feeling good about yourself and feeling happy. These are the things that are going to have the biggest impact. The things that are going to help them get out there and change things for themselves.”
Nathan reflects on his housing situation, “It doesn’t affect me mentally. You know I have got somewhere to stay. There are some people, not even some; there’s A LOT of people, who don’t have places to stay, no heating, hot water, food, somewhere they can just chill out, you know what I mean, somewhere they can call theirs and decorate it how they want to. I try to think positive about the things I have. I battled a lot to get this place.”
Stopping traumas being passed down to children
Lawrence explains,“It’s quite pessimistic, but there is only so much we can do to help these dads out of struggling on low incomes or those trapped relying on benefits. Where we can make the real difference is how they bring up their children. So, they are not letting them make the same mistakes they did growing up and limiting their options. They know how to be there for their children. And, don’t pass on their traumas to their children.”
Nathan wants his boys to go to University. He talks about a time when he will be able to help them pay their university fees.
“I just want them to live to the fullest, whatever they want to do. I’m more than happy to help them to get to where they want to be. By the time they get to my age, I will be like 40 something. Hopefully, I can educate them more than I’ve been educated.”