Since writing my blog post on the Cornwall Council Christmas newsletter (which contained the message ‘pay your rent before it’s spent’), the story has sort of…exploded*.
You’d think with so much negative coverage for the council they would just admit that the newsletter was offensive, patronising, in bad taste and poorly timed. My family received it on Christmas eve – not a time when you want to hear that the council will bring the bailiffs in if you don’t cough up, or that you will be evicted. Also not a good time to announce rent rises of £3-£5 a week (hundreds of pounds a year) on the same page, alongside the claim that the government’s benefit ‘reforms’ are not viewed as a valid reason for underpayment.
As I’ve said elsewhere, the whole page perpetuated the myth of council tenants as reckless with spending, poor at budgeting, and the notion that poverty isn’t the cause of things like the bedroom tax and low wages but of the fecklessness and carelessness of the poor. It’s a slap in the face to thousands in Cornwall.
Was there an apology? Well…no. Yesterday the council posted an update on the scandal on its site – presumably to deflect the growing chorus against its actions. It said:
The article was intended to remind tenants of the importance of keeping on top of their rent payments over the festive period…[and] that we no longer give two ‘rent free’ weeks at Christmas.
Referring to homelessness (and implicitly, evictions), it went on to say:
We have seen first hand the consequences of people not budgeting correctly and prioritising their debts.
This is basically just another veiled threat to kick out struggling tenants for under-/non-payment of rent. But the final line is priceless:
It was certainly not our intention to patronise our tenants in any way and we are sorry if some people have interpreted the article in this way.
Basically, they are apologising for their tenants’ supposed misinterpretation of the clearly insulting newsletter. They are apologising for what they see as their residents stupidity. Essentially, ‘we are sorry if you got the wrong end of the stick’. It puts the blame on the tenants rather than the council. It’s not an apology therefore, and I’ll be seeking an actual formal apology and retraction from the council itself – not an apology for their tenants.
In sum, the council’s response continues the patronising attitude of the newsletter – that tenants are idiots to be belittled. It is not much better than the original article itself, and it certainly isn’t a retraction.
How did I hear about the ‘apology’ that never was? Twitter. No formal letter, no visit, no phone call. Instead, the council said:
— Cornwall Council (@CornwallCouncil) January 2, 2014
I told them my family was waiting for a full formal apology. None yet.
What have the actual (Lib Dem/Indy) councillors responsible said? This is from the BBC article:
Liberal Democrat councillor Geoff Brown, cabinet member for housing, said he was sorry if anyone was offended by the newsletter, but the council was trying to help tenants by stressing the importance of people being “very, very careful and managing their money”.
Again, not actually saying sorry, just apologising for tenants’ ostensible myopia. I don’t even need to say how patronising the phrase telling residents to be “very, very careful” at “managing their money” is.
Without wanting to start a new People’s Front of Judea, the response from Labour has also been disappointing, criticising only the timing of the article, not the content or overall message and tone. “The timing of the newsletter was terrible”, said Labour councillor Michael Bunney.
But the story is kicking off. Let’s hope Cornwall Council see sense and do the right thing. Better than an apology though would be a pledge not to evict tenants hit by the bedroom tax and a pledge not to raise rents. People cannot afford the housing & council benefit cuts, and hundreds of pounds extra in rent a year.
Feel free to write to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any thoughts for them!
*It’s the most viewed article on the blog with nearly 500 views in around a week, and it has sparked national coverage in the Morning Star (in print), BBC News Online (here), BBC Spotlight, and the Cornish Guardian (next week – with a news piece, plus a short comment by me).
Here’s the full message: