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on 25 March 2012
For me personally, a university student who grew up in a council estate, to read a book which was both academic and personal was refreshing. Lynsey Hanley uses her own experience growing up on an estate in Birmingham to describe the social problems that exist our estates today. More importantly she reveals our views as a nation to social housing, unveiling deeper issues of class in the UK.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found the most interesting argument in her book was her description of `walls in the head' that culturally there are barriers between the working and underclass and the middle-classes. Myself I have experience these walls, and I found her personal account very reminiscent of my own experiences. I think this would also be an interesting read for anyone who have never been to a council estate to learn more about public housing in the UK.
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on 26 February 2012
I enjoyed Lynsey Hanley's social history of the council estate in modern Britain,and agreed with much that she said.I cannot believe that we would allow those other tenets of the Welfare State-namely the NHS and the education system to deteriorate to such a degree as we have allowed social housing to reach in the first part of the 21st century. Council estates still have a stigma-though aways have. They are undesireable places where undesireable people,but what makes people become the lowest part of society. They are the easiest people to push around, as Lynsey says of the education system on council estates no expectations are encouraged,so they will continue to play to the role that society has given them.The future certainly does not look encouraging with the restriction and cap on housing benefit, the reduction of benefits, and the general hopelessness of people at the bottom of the pile for whatever reason.
Lynsey Hanley gives a personal view of life on council estates both in Birmingham and London. Her views are also her own based on experience,contact and background reading on the subject.
The book makes you think about the aspect of social housing-sounds better than council estates.-and for those who have never lived on council estates a glimpse into what life is like-though the concepts are pushed through the likes of Waterloo Road and Shameless,do people strive to live upto the stereotype.
This is required reading for those who want to know what has happened to social housing over the last fifty years from Bevan to Pickles
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This is an important book which illuminates the lie of the New Labour meritocracy deal - in short, how can one aspire to a better lifestyle when conditions conspire to make you unaware that anything better might exist, and simultaneously rob you of any opportunity to succeed?

In my time I've lived and taught on sink estates, and if anything Hanley understates the case - I've worked with kids in The North East who at 18 had never been further than the end of the street, and moreover didn't feel any urge to. Hanley captures this well with her 'wall' metaphor.

However, worthy as it is, the mix of personal history, invective and evidence that Hanley presents is indigestible - she isn't really readable. Not the point, of course, but still so.
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on 7 December 2010
As a foreigner living, working and studying in the UK in mostly well-to-do circles, my limited one-sided understanding of council estates before reading this book was that, the people living in there were lazy, that they rely on state benefits, watch TV all day and are leeches of the society.

This book has really opened my eyes about the circumstances people living on estates found themselves to be in, and made it clear that while individuals have responsibilities of their lives, their environment can trap them in and make it extremely hard to get out, and that pure meritocracy is a lie.

I found out about this book from a research project on the media portrayal of 'chavs' and this book provided a really good background. I recommend it to anyone doing research on Britain's underclass. I also recommend it to anyone holding prejudice against people living on estates. It's easy to fear and hold prejudices against something you don't know, and some understanding can help with that.
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on 18 March 2008
This book doesn't quite work. It seeks to be a personal memoir and an account of public housing policies but falls short in both. For example, while there are references to the author's childhood, these are fleeting and not all that interesting or personal. And, while there is some information on Government housing policy, this is unoriginal and relies too much on a few sources (such as Anne Power's work for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation). Another annoyance is that in various places the author condemns people who look askance at people who live on estates and then does exactly the same herself - the section on shellsuits near the end is a perfect example of this. The author is also deeply confused about various things - especially the aims of national politicians, which are caricatured mercilessly but apparently unintentionally. On page 171, she writes, 'I like to think I know what I'm talking about.' This sums up the book perfectly - slightly arrogant and not as good as it thinks it is.
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VINE VOICEon 1 September 2007
This is a fascinating view of life on council estates. Lynsey Hanley grew up on a vast estate in Birmingham, and now lives in Tower Hamlets. (It appears that part of her motivation for staying in the Tower Hamlets estate is to become an agent of change.) Her key arguments are:
-There is a common view that most people who live on Council estates are by nature anti-social. She argues that the condition of many estates is a factor encouraging anti-social behaviour. If you have been dumped in sub-standard housing on the edge of town, what motivation do you have to be a model citizen?
-Public housing is not necessarily bad. Some other European countries achieve a better standard than the UK. (However, she overlooks the banlieux of Paris, which manage to achieve racial ghettos as effectively as anywhere in this country.)
-Generally council houses are better to live in than council flats
-Architects and planners are past masters at producing award-winning monstrosities which they themselves would not live in (other than as a publicity stunt)
[These last two are not new views and are definitely not rocket science. However, it does absolutely no harm to emphasise them.]

The strongest metaphor in the book is "the wall in the head", which was originally used to describe the cultural conflict between East and West Germans long after the Berlin Wall disappeared.

There is an extensive explanation of how the provision of municipal housing paralleled the rise and fall of the Welfare State overall.

A challenging view, which makes you question your assumptions as to why council estates are the way they are.
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on 1 March 2013
Well written, well researched book, passionately delivered by the author. This book answers questions, is enlightening and should be in libraries up and down the country and served up as part of the school curriculum to teach our children that greed is not good. However, it won't be, and neither will it's compassionate stablemates. God forbid people should think. Which brings me to the only things that really raised my hackles....

The author tends to repeat the mantra that the poor are "Given" council homes and land. They are not given homes, nor land. The vast majority of social housing tenants rent homes and land with the money they work for, even if that income is low. They will never OWN their homes and land as long as they cannot afford to buy. To repeat that they are GIVEN homes and lands fuels the current hatred of the working classes and social tenants. Their money is as good as anyone else's. Low income does not necessarily an undeserving scumbag make.

There is much blame laid against the design of housing estates, and a lot of points on housing policies missed entirely. For as long as regulations enable bad tenants to neglect their rented homes, flout laws, not pay their rent, behave in an anti social manner, and are allowed to live cheek by jowl with decent, law abiding, rent paying tenants, social housing will deteriorate into ghetto status. What does this do to decent people who just don't have much money? It pulls them down to the lowest common denominator, makes their lives utter misery. This point also applies to part buy schemes, money does not make decent neighbours, and one badly placed tenant/owner occupier can destroy a community from the inside, forcing decent people out and slowly creating a ghetto, where only the desperate or uncaring can exist.

A little more emphasis on behavioural deterioration and the laws that allow it to happen in an area where "Excellence of Tenancy" counts for nothing in the face of liberal laws and policies which reward those who flout the same laws, would help to balance this work.

I would have liked to have seen more emphasis and questioning on housing policy and regulations and the detrimental punishing effect they have on people who have committed no offence, and being of low income, is not, as far as I am aware, an offence worthy of punishment.

So, yes, the book is very good, but it is irritating and (probably) unintentionally misleading in places. Those who despise people of low income will adore the contents and use it to bolster their bigotry. Those who are of low income and law abiding will despair and feel like giving up.

I would like to see this author write another book, up to date now, examining the issues which were raised for me, and many more besides, such as the current wave of poverty inducing, hatred encouraging policies.

Homes, whether rented or bought, can be lovely places to live, but only as long as the occupiers and owners take pride and protect their investments.
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on 14 December 2014
Well written, and gives an insight into what it means to have been brought up on what was formerly known as 'a council estate'. Physically, the author 'escaped', but mentally, she remains affected by the experience . I can relate to that, as my experiences have been similar. The author's observations deserve as wide an audience as possible.
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on 3 August 2015
I found this book on a train. I thought it looked depressing, nevertheless I picked it up and turned to page 1. I had reached my destination what seemed like minutes later, so engaging was the book. My life 0-8 was spent on a council estate, until my parents climbed the property ladder having exercised their right to buy . It was perfectly pleasant and safe, I was lucky. I was fascinated with the high rise flats and still retain a curiosity. My best friend lived on a squat block 6 units high, 3 wide. We used to play in the lifts, terrify each other by going into the bowels of the basement, run round the washing-line area looking at the clothes on the line and climb in the bushes. I used to imagine living in a flat with a balcony as it seemed more exotic than my family's house. I briefly flirted with buying a duplex in my early twenties (1996) as they were up for sale for £13,000 per unit in Sandwell. I was planning to be a landlady rather than resident, but after seeing the revamped tower block, its "gym" (dingy basement room) and residents Jacuzzi (one dreads to think how many cells would be present in the "water". In any case, I have also had a wall in my head. I can happily say that has now been pretty much demolished, Mainly as a result of climbing the social and housing ladder. Hats off to Hanley, she epitomised council house life me, and captured its essence succinctly. Definitely a recommended read 😊!!
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on 4 January 2016
Pure magic. In should be compulsory reading for anyone mouthing orf (sic) in public about social or housing issues. It is also suitable for giving to angst ridden colleagues who are personally still suffering from the effects of "the wall in the head", as it gives them a key to unlock their past.
I have provided references from it to Wikipedia:Public housing in the United Kingdom.
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