Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Britain is a country with 93,000 homeless children and a tireless, old film director called Ken Loach, still adding a passionate voice to public outrage

At the 'Homes for Britain' Campaign Rally yesterday, around 2,300 activists gathered in the Central Methodist Hall, Westminster, in the largest rally yet, to protest against Britain's failure to address shortage of affordable housing and hear solutions to the housing crisis from the main political parties.

Ken, a keynote speaker, is seventy-eight years old and has made films over the last 50 years, noted for their social realism, driven by his left-wing views and often  denied the accolades in Britain which they have been granted in Europe. After rapturous applause, he addressed the audience :
"When 'Cathy Come Home' was made, homelessness was a major issue. Husbands were separated from their families because they had no home, there was terrible poverty accommodation, it was a horror story. It is much worse now, much worse now. 93,000 kids homeless. What a disgrace in this rich country. Tens of thousands of families have their lives in chaos and the politicians who are speaking have allowed it to happen. I am really unhappy with some of these people because they have got us here.”

Almost half a century ago in his thirties, back in the 1960's, he mad ten 'Wednesday Plays', for BBC TV, including the docudrama 'Cathy Come Home' in 1966.. The story focused on a family devastated by homelessness, evicted from their home and surviving in illegal squats.
The 'Homes For Britain' Rally, backed by 300 organisations : developers, estate agents, social landlords and charities, sought pledges that, whichever Party formed the next Government after the General Election in May, it would deliver a long-term plan, within a year, to resolve the housing crisis. The Campaign claims that in England, house building figures hovered below the 125,000 mark for the sixth year in a row in 2014, the lowest peacetime levels since the 1920s and that for decades, only half the 245,000 homes needed have been built.

Ken's solution was radical : “End the bedroom tax, cut rents and stop the housing benefit money going into the pockets of the rich landlords. We need a massive house building programme with directly employed labour, directly employed planners and architects. Let’s bring some democracy back to housing.” He invoked the spirit of the post-Second War programme of building carried out by Aneurin Bevan in the 1940s.

After his speech he said : "There are no comparable figures for the housing situation in '66 to now, but all the indications are that it's much, much worse. I mean there are 93,000 children categorised as 'homeless' and you think of their life chances, how they're diminished by having nowhere to call 'home' and as someone has just said, "having a house is a prerequisite for building a decent life". In one way they've got worse is not a surprise because the shifting consciousness was with the Thatcher Government which says the market will provide, but the market has not provided and will never provide. It'll provide big profits for the big building companies. It gives us the grotesque crisis in West London, the poor families being moved out and being moved to areas in the country where it's cheap, so that they lose all their family infrastructure and, if you rely on the market, it cannot plan."

Ken, whose commitment, over the last fifty years, to use film to highlight social and political injustice, past and present and
help create a fairer society has met with intermittent success, has meant that he :

* in 1967, followed 'Cathy Come Home' with 'Poor Cow' : in which the central character who, married young, has a child with an abusive thief and, after his imprisonment, embarked on a series of failed relationships until her son goes missing and she briefly comes to grips with what is most important to her.

* found his 1967 documentary : 'The Save the Children Fund Film' so disliked by the charity, that it cancelled the screening and attempted to have the negative destroyed, but
in 1969 made 'Kes', the story of a troubled boy and his kestrel and later saw it rated as 'Number 7' by the British Institute in the list of 'Best British films of the Twentieth Century'.

* was commissioned by Channel 4 in 1981, to make 'A Question of Leadership', a documentary series on the response of the British Trades Union Movement to the challenge posed by the policies of Margaret Thatcher's Government and concluded that the decision not to screen the programmes was 'politically motivated'.

directed 'Which Side Are You On?  in 1985, about the songs and poems of the 1984-85 Miners Strike for ITV' and saw it also withdrawn from transmission, only to see it broadcast after it won a major prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.

* in 1990 saw his  'Hidden Agenda', dealing with the political troubles in Northern Ireland, receive acclaim and 'Riff-Raff' based on working class work, life and love in 1991, win the 'Felix Award for Best European Film' and in  2006, won the 'Palme d'Or' at Cannes for 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley' , about the Irish War of Independence against the British during the 1920s.

* in 2012, released 'The Angel's Share', about a young Scottish troublemaker, given one final opportunity to stay out of jail, receive the 'Jury Prize' at the Cannes and two years later saw 'Jimmy's Hall' about political activist, Jimmy Gralton, deported from Ireland during the 'Red Scare' in the 1930s, selected to compete for the 'Palme d'Or' in the 2014 Festival :

* in his 2013 documentary, 'The Spirit of '45' focused on the way the spirit of unity, which had buoyed Britain during the Second World War and spilt over to create a fairer more cohesive post-War Britain :

* has said :

"A movie isn't a political movement, a party or even an article. It's just a film. At best it can add its voice to public outrage".

1 comment:

  1. In Germany, Ken Loach is highly appreciated among cinema goers. His films are regularly on German TV and are admired for their style, for their attitude and their mastership.