Paul Sng’s dauntless exploration into the UK’s social housing crisis in Dispossession: The Great Housing Swindle is honest, evocative and horrifying. Narrated by Maxine Peake, this could be the most instrumental vehicle to drive urgency and valour into the conscience of the British people, as the fight for equality among the classes gathers momentum and pushes forward with voices refusing to be ignored any longer. At a Sunday evening screening with a Q&A panel at Home, passions as well as restlessness ran high in a theatre united by a hope for better, but divided by the question: how?

“You wake up in the night – it stays with you.” This is a memorable and unsettling quote from a Cressingham Gardens resident, whose London home of 41 years is facing demolition as the council claim it is more cost-effective to regenerate than repair. But this resident and her neighbours – many of whom are homeowners now, thanks to the Government’s Help To Buy scheme – are not to be fooled. They’re aware that the land of their social housing estate is extremely valuable to property developers. In fact, were their estate to be demolished and modern homes built upon the land, given the desirable central London location, they could fetch a minimum of £800,000 each.

It doesn’t stop there. Councils across the UK are being enticed more and more by the lure of property developers’ money and making inner cities, and people’s homes, entirely unaffordable for working class people. Lisa McKenzie emphasised this fact when she made an alarmingly poignant comment during the panel discussion, saying, “There’s a lot of money to be made out of the poor. And there is a lot of money being made out of the poor.”

Dispossession follows residents of currently threatened and already demolished social housing estates up and down the UK, allowing people from cities including London, Nottingham, Glasgow to share their stories of their suffering, their mistreatment, their despair. This is a desperately distressing piece of documentary filmmaking, but it’s an ingenuous piece that couldn’t have arrived at a more important time. At a rapidly escalating rate, our society is becoming selfish and self-righteous, encouraged by a government  keen on social cleansing and taking all they can at the expense of those most in need. Dispossession begs us to ask ourselves why we’re allowing so many to take a second house as an investment, as a pension, while so many more are left with nowhere to go and with no one to care.

Terry Christian introduced the film at the screening, telling how he “shuddered to think” of what would happen to his family now, being that his family of eight were reliant on social housing for stability in his childhood. Later, during the panel discussion, he asked Sng what it was that inspired him to make the film. “Two words,” Sng began. “Benefit Street.” The response was met by a furore of knowing mumbles and agreeable nods as Sng continued, “I wanted to show our communities as they are – intelligent… eloquent.”

It’s undeniable that our media is relentless with its thoughtless, unjustified attacks on the working class which ultimately forge an ever-expanding divide within society. The elite grow ever more repulsed by the vulgarity and idleness they are shown while the working classes are isolated, excluded and demonised. Thus, we are left with a disconnection, a war of interests and a compassion deficiency. Sng told of how the working classes were becoming thought of as “feckless” thanks to such media treatment. He told of how he wanted to show the beauty of these communities, which is often forgotten or overlooked.

As we clamber our way through the uphill struggle that is our 21st century life, we are met with challenges and difficulties that can impose such quiet chaos within our own lives that we can be forgiven for sometimes losing sight of the bigger picture. However, what Dispossession asks us to remember as we move forward is that it’s becoming more and more crucial to cling to the concept of the bigger picture. Not for comfort – the bigger picture is certainly no comforting sight. What it is though, is the ugly truth. And just when we feel our personal strife is of utter insignificance to the world around us, we must be reminded that, actually, we are not alone and there might just be an answer. But that answer only comes when we listen to one another and work together, in the interest of everyone.

dispossessionfilm.com

Charlotte Reck