The New-build Dilemma

It is official – houses are getting smaller.

Here are a few numbers from an article on the subject by Andrew Ellson and Jedidajah Otte in The Times, 20th August, 2018.

On average:

– Houses are now 20% smaller than in the 1970’s

– Living rooms are 1/3 smaller

– Kitchens are 1/4 smaller

– Bedrooms are 1/5 smaller

The road to purchasing a house is littered with potholes, diversions, dead-ends and dodgy signage. It took myself and my partner a year and a half to save up the deposit needed for a house in our area. And we only managed it because of the charity of my parents letting me live rent free in their house. If my partner and I had been renting, it would have taken us nearly three or four years to save for that deposit. That says a lot about our current culture.

New couples, new families and O.A.P’s looking to upgrade in their later years are buying new houses in new developments. Around Crawley and Horsham alone – where I am based – five new sectors are being added. Thousands of houses and apartments. All of them built smaller than the average residence, and – from myriad conversations I have had with labourers on site – with ever cheaper materials. For example: door frames built from compressed cardboard, plumbing constructed from PVC pipework, fake chimneys made from wood and rendered to look like brickwork. As well as plasterboard walls which would crumble if the PVC breaks or splits – after all PVC is far more brittle than copper and more susceptible to changes in pressure and atmospheric conditions.

New builds are not just smaller but also more expensive than the regular property and they are selling on the notion that, because they are modern, they have a longer lifespan than those built during earlier periods. No previous owners. No degradation. A new space to make a new home.

Space aside there is another issue facing those living in the new build houses and that is one of mental health. Statistically those living in smaller properties are more likely to develop mental health and social issues such as depression and anxiety. In cramped conditions, members of the family cannot get the time on their own that they need, as highlighted by Ben Derbyshire, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects who says that “In a two-bed, four person home there is no space to be on your own except in the lavatory. Humans are social animals but they also need peace, quiet and space for concentration.”

Higher property prices of new builds lead to financial anxieties due to buyers taking out larger mortgages. Combined with smaller living conditions leading to mental health problems the precedent being set by property developers is worrying.

Mental health and social issues after all lead to the most amount of work days missed and account for two of every five visits to G.P’s. The financial demand of the house combined with the house itself causing stress and worry would only create a false economy, would it not?

That is not to say that every new build is small, but with prices already high for smaller dwellings, the costs of larger properties are exponentially more and therefore fall into a price bracket that is often unachievable by those living on the average income. As commentator Tim Montgomerie says: “Inflated house prices owe much to the power of a few major builders to restrict the supply of new homes.” If someone wants to buy a house to call a home, they are at the whim of the prices dictated by developers. If you are a high-earner or in a high earning partnership and have enough money to buy a larger property, well, it turns out money really can buy you happiness.

The saleability of houses in regards to number of rooms is another contentious issue that we face in the United Kingdom. We are one of the only nations that sell properties based on the number of bedrooms that it has. In America and in much of Europe houses are sold on the basis of how many square metres are available. While people within the U.K might be happy in the knowledge that they have bought a three bedroom property, the space inside might not be appropriate for either the family unit, or to provide adequate separation space. After all, many properties advertised to have three bedrooms live up to the promise but space is massively lacking. What are sold as double bedrooms can at best fit a double bed and nothing else. I came across many of these houses when looking for the place we eventually called home.

As property developers squeeze as many houses into an acquired space as possible in order to maximise profits, the government is doing little in the way of putting regulations in place in order to set a decent living standard. Instead the “minimum size standards for new dwellings” as laid down by the government is entirely voluntary. This needs to change. The standards should become policy for all new developments not only for the benefit of the inhabitants but, as pointed out above, for the economy as a whole.

Architecture and proper civic planning can be, and has been, a tool for great change. By giving people space in which they can be part of the family unit and when needed to spend time by themselves. By focusing on creating public spaces in order to eradicate seclusion from one another and by bringing back community centres for children and social clubs for adults.

Due to the neoliberal dogma that the Conservative government subscribe to, projects such as this will simply not take hold. Maximising profits for companies and deregulating the market only weakens the government’s voice in matters of public discourse as corporate interest takes control. Prices will rise, houses will get incrementally smaller so that it is barely noticeable, and the effects on buyers will only be negative as a result.

Is this the way we want to go? Of course not. We need a government that will implement change and stamp policy into place to give people the place, and space, that they deserve.

The Age of Unreason – The Post Truth Era

“Britain has had enough of experts.”

You may remember that memorable line by Michael Gove in the interview with Faisal Islam on June 3rd, 2016. The quote was ricocheted throughout the media by journalists who simply could not believe what they were hearing.

I listened to the sound bite on the radio whilst at work. I was furious that someone who had chosen to go into politics, a career that demands expertise in myriad aspects of life (and we trust them to be experts in their fields) could say such a thing.

When I got home I pulled up the video on youtube and watched, and re-watched, the interview. That was the first time that I actually wondered if the country really would vote to leave the European Union. Twenty days later, the answer came.

With that crippling simple statement Michael Gove became one of the many people who helped propagate what is known as the Post-Truth movement. Post-truth politics – the rebuttal of facts by appealing to emotion – became a leading theme in western politics throughout 2016/17. In the case of Brexit, Ian Dunt wrote:

‘At the core of Britain’s current dilemma is a refusal to engage with objective fact. The debate about Brexit was lost, almost as soon as it began, in a tribal and emotional dogfight which bore little relation to reality.’

Brexit, What the Hell Happens Now?
Tagline: “For people who still believe in experts.”

Michael Gove’s statement had an incredibly negative effect and not just for Brexit. He made it acceptable to ignore truth.

This was a theme that ran on throughout the referendum campaign in the United Kingdom. Disinformation, or at the very least the shooing of information, became the spearhead pulling the campaign through that pesky cloud of facts. Aaron Banks, a man who put millions into the Leave campaign said: ‘Facts don’t work. You have to connect with the people emotionally. It’s the Trump success.’

A blatant declaration and admission that facts were ignored, and that it was okay to ignore them. And this coming from one of the key figureheads of the Leave movement.

This is the kind of mind-frame that took the United Kingdom into one of the biggest crises to shake our foundations since the Second World War.

The leave campaign was driven with slogans to incense the people “Take back control” (from the European Union) “Don’t let them in” (regarding refugees) and then lies to clinch the deal such as: the European Union are the ones that allowed free passage of immigrants from outside the E.U into the country. This is a falsehood since the government had the power to increase border force and stem the flow of immigration whenever it chose to. The real problem facing the government here was that they were not prepared to admit that they had always had the power to implement change but had simply decided it was too expensive to go ahead. This would weaken the Conservative position which they had absolutely no intention of doing.

The worst lie uttered by the Leave campaign was one that played on the heartstrings of the majority of the U.K regarding one of its most cherished institutions – the National Health Service.

We all remember the giant sign plastered on the side of the red bus declaring that the £350 million we give to the European Union would be put back into the NHS. This was a deception of the highest magnitude and was ditched as soon as the Leave vote was cast.

The crucial thing to remember is that the people who voted Leave had some genuine concerns that were not being addressed by the government. The issue is that the Leave campaign latched onto these concerns and redirected the anger toward an outside force.

Across the Atlantic during the presidential campaign of 2016, the soon-to-be president Donald Trump rebutted economic strategy and plans for reforms from the democratic side with slander. The entire campaign instantly lost any level of authenticity. Unfortunately the already controversial candidate, Hilary Clinton, stooped to his level. The fight for the White House was a fiasco.

When Donald Trump gained power, Kellyanne Conway (counsellor to U.S President Donald Trump) gave the new government free reign to lie when she addressed the press regarding Sean Spicer’s blatant inaccuracies regarding the number of attendees to President Trump’s inauguration. During an interview on 22nd January, 2017 with Chuck Todd on NBC, Conway claimed that Sean Spicer had not lied but had instead used “alternative facts”.

Trump’s presidency was born in a cloud of misinformation.

Chuck Todd also recently interviewed ex-mayor of New York, Rudy Guiliani, who – when talking about Donald Trump’s meeting’s with Mike Comey – said that people have “different versions of the truth” and “the truth is not the truth”. The pollution of the truth is an ongoing tactic throughout Donald Trump’s presidency, something that he bolsters with the firing of anyone who questions his authority. This is a blatant disregard of a democratic process in which government officials are meant to be held accountable by the people and governing bodies.

Without a doubt the most useful tool in Donald Trump’s arsenal is the use of “Fake News”.

Used throughout his run for presidency and still used to this day, Trump throws “fake news” at any news station or journalist that does not bathe him in good light. The use of “Fake News” shakes peoples trust in what they read, what they hear and what they see so that, when the truth is told (whether it be in regards to his interactions with Stormy Daniels, the silencing of his ex-wife with huge payoff or possible collusion with Russia) it will only be lost in the fires of confusion constantly fed by the words of Trump and his associates.

The age of unreason is a new and devastating era. Post-truths, alternative facts, having had “enough of experts” – this is all intrinsically damning to our way of life.

Corroborative hard evidence is being met with opinion. Measurable facts met with blasé indifference. People are being told that it is okay to go on their gut instincts and throw facts to the wind.

What this does in reality, is give reason (or the illusion of reason) to the unreasonable. A stomping ground to anyone with a gripe who does not truly know where to point their anger.

It was most succinctly put my Matthew D’anconia in his book Post Truth, The New War on Truth and How to Fight It when he says in his introduction that he will “explore the declining value of truth as society’s reserve currency, and the infectious spread of pernicious relativism disguised as legitimate scepticism”.

This can be said for a number of views that have become widespread and accepted by some communities, for instance:

– Climate change denial in which 97% of climate scientists believe that the climate is changing due to human impact and yet Senator James Inhofe can bring a snowball into a senate committee to show to everyone that it is cold outside as if that was evidence that the entire planet is fine.

– Holocaust denial in which a small group of people believe that the systematic slaughter of Jewish people never happened despite countless pieces of evidence in the forms of written statements, prisoner names and numbers filed away in folders at death camps as well as actual video footage. Holocaust deniers put the evidence down to fabricated documents and actors.

– The Anti-vaccination movement in which people fight the science of modern medicine and believe that vaccinations cause autism whilst what it is really doing is making their children susceptible to disease.

– Flat earth theory

The crux of the issue does not just come down to people being fed false information, but people willing to believe false information that matches their own views. It is no secret that Donald Trump aimed his argument at the disgruntled white working class and told them their problems were because of Democratic party policy and, of course, foreigners. The same tactic was used throughout the campaign to leave the European Union. After all, it is easier to point the blame at an easy target when the problems are much deeper and run through our own governments and the way we handle businesses.

Arguments, conversations and campaigns should take place, after all they help our society progress and evolve. But they need to be backed with truth. After all, if we do not have truth, we live in a society in freefall.

Mental health & Economics

Mental health and economics might not be words that people associate with one another but, as described below, it is time for this to change. Let’s delve into this starting where all policy should start: with the people.
People are the backbone to society.

Forget what you are told in that companies uphold the people. It is the people that make a success of any company as either workers, purchasers or as maintainers. Take a moment and think about what would happen to the global economy as we know it if, for a period of twenty-four hours, every person went on strike and absolutely no transactions took place.

Or think a little bit smaller. For example, train fares in this country are predicted to go up another 3.2% and yet wage has stagnated. That is reason enough for us to abandon rail system until requirements are met. So let us say that everyone who used the train decided to either take a day off or simply decided not to re-purchase their yearly ticket. As a result, that company would be hit with severe, maybe even crippling, losses. The people, when organised, are a force that can change…well, everything.

People are the ultimate resource in the world of supply and demand. And yet, day by day, people are becoming more and more undervalued. Since people are the most important resource on the planet, they need to be taken care of in all regards. This includes within an area that has been steeped in stigma for decades – mental health.

The impact of mental health on the economic model is put most succinctly by the Mental Health Foundation: ‘The bare facts speak for themselves: one in four adults and one in ten children are likely to have a mental health problem in any year. This can have a profound impact on the lives of tens of millions of people in the UK, and can affect their ability to sustain relationships, work, or just get through the day. The economic cost to the UK is £70 to £100 billion each year.’

But why is it beneficial, or even ethical, to bring up the economic cost of mental health problems? Because if there is one thing the government cares about it is improving the numbers of their successes and doing their best to gain profits, i.e. the Gross Domestic Product.

If we look at the issue of mental health from an economic standpoint and turn people into numbers at a time when the connection between government and the people seems to be at an all-time low, the argument takes on a dimension that can be more easily understood by those currently in power.

The sad truth is that when the effects of mental health are communicated on a level through lived-experience, or first-hand accounts, there is no urgency for change by the so-called “establishment”. It is sad, but they only seem to respond to the bigger picture.

The big picture is: mental health issues account for nearly half of all absenteeism and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. If this were any other disease with more physical attributes it would be treated as an epidemic. Mental health is a hidden epidemic and is given no such treatment. Instead, those suffering from mental health issues have to deal with severely underfunded and understaffed facilities and long waiting times for psychiatric help.

As a society we are keen to keep up with physical health – eating well, exercise etc – and yet we are not as keen when it comes to taking care of our emotional health. We see a problem, and we react. Mental health issues suffer instead from the tyranny of invisibility, and yet the numbers from economists consistently prove that mental health cases make up the majority of illness related to work.

The evidence for change is plentiful. After all “well evidenced information is vital to motivate people to advocate for the changes that can make a difference.” The government needs to take the information within its grasp and call for a new change.

Challenging mental health issues is not just the right thing to do, it is an investment. For the people to get the help they deserve, they need to be seen as an asset and a resource. After all, people are the most important resource. But more importantly, they are human beings

Another day

My heart was banging against my ribs like a jackhammer. I haven’t been near a mental health team in nearly a month and I was heading for the Adult Mental Health building in Ifield, Crawley.

You could easily pass by the building without noticing it. It is a renovated corner plot scrunched between two houses. A small parking area out front. A placard outside in the NHS blue and white bands is the only giveaway.

I pressed the buzzer and went in. A sizeable waiting room. Sign-in desk, white walls with posters and leaflets designated to the cause. I sign in and take a seat. An old fan oscillates lazily and blows a welcome breeze around the stuffy space. It’s leaning a little on a bent leg and every time it makes its way left it looks like it’s going to topple.

I wait and check my phone. Turns out that once you sign in to NHS WiFi you can access it in most buildings. No signing in again. No fuss. After a few minutes I’m called through. I go to a room with three cushioned chairs. Wood seats are stacked in the corners. A man has a laptop open on a table that is crammed near the window. I’m guessing that this place is usually used for group projects. I marvel again at how under-sourced Mental Health is that they are subjected to using whatever space they can.

The man and a woman take turns questioning me on my mental health history.

“Do you still think about suicide?”

I nod. It’s hard not to when it has seemed like an option for so long.

“Do you have ideas?”

I go through a couple of options but there is no weight in them right now. Again, just thoughts that I can’t stop worming their way in to the grey matter day to day.

“What do you want from this process?”

“Therapy.”

“Therapy can be a very hard process. It takes a long time. Can be very full-on. Do you think you’re ready to go through that?”

“Yes. I need to face this head on.”

The man and woman nod and confer with one another. Seems like I’m getting therapy. I am told that it won’t start until autumn. I don’t mind. Autumn and winter are hard times. Darkness, rain, cold winds and coming and going to work in the dark. Any kind of work to help me focus away from those miserable days is welcome.

When I left the building, memories came back. Everything leading up until this point and the ludicrousness of the situation I am in. I felt like crying but I walked a bit faster and focused on getting home. There’s no point going through it yet. Save it for the sessions. A place where someone trained can help work through it.

Yeah. That’ll do. It’s a waiting game. I remind myself to take each day as it comes. Breathe. Go home and grab a coffee. Each day as it comes. Each day as it comes.

Picture above: Coffee table I made from pallets and copper tubing.

Win-Win…only not

After my recent bout with mental health I decided it was time to change jobs. My previous 7-5, Monday – Friday job would not allow me to attend the sessions I need for my path to recovery. You see, these services are only offered throughout the the general working week. Shift work was the obvious answer.

Money into the bank. The mortgage gets paid. Money goes into savings. We get food on the table and I am flexible to attend therapy and other sessions.

Win-Win.

But not really. There’s a catch.

The catch 22 (a recommended read by the way*) in this situation is that – by working I am deemed “stable”. The truth is – I am working to try and keep stable.

Last week I received a letter from my community support team asking me to attend an appointment that would be to judge the level of care that I would require from here on out. Due to my shift work I could not attend the appointment due in a couple weeks time. I called the team and asked that I change my appointment date.

When the lady on the other end of the phone asked me why I needed to change the date I told her it was because of work.

“You have work that day.” A declaration. An accusation? I’m not sure. There was an awkward pause. I had an image in my mind of the woman on the other end of the phone typing something on her computer.

Now in work. Not urgent. Or something to that effect.

I suddently felt guilty for being in a job. For not being curled up in a ball in a darkened room or staring into space and having my guts churn with anxiety and depression. I am trying to keep money coming in. I am trying to remain distracted. If I have somewhere to go and something to do with my days my fiancee doesn’t worry about me being home alone and lost in my head.

And yet the receptionist on the other end of the line had pulled the rug from under me. After the pause I heard rummaging on the other end of the line. “Okay, well, I’ll try and get one of the doctors to call you but this is usually all done by post. The appointments just get sent out.”

And they are adhered to. Was what the silence after her statement said.

I understand that the NHS is strapped for cash and resources in this domain but I shouldn’t have been made to feel like a rusty cog in the system.

“It gets better”

“It gets better.” It’s something we all hear. If we are facing a tough time at work, or if we are ill. Especially if you suffer from some kind of mental health episode and have opened up about it. In any capacity. A break-up, a falling out with a loved one. Depression. Anxiety. Doesn’t matter.

When you are in the grips of depression, hearing someone utter those words – “It gets better” – is white noise. Nothing seems like it will get better. You are staring into a black abyss and phrases like that are nothing more than stones skimming the surface.

But there is a truth to the words. It is just that the words themselves need to be changed to reduce the distance of outlook.

“Take every day as it comes.”

“It becomes more manageable.”

These things are true. But they don’t promise something in the distance. If you are suffering from mental health or if you know someone who is suffering, take into consideration that the phrase – “it gets better” – creates a scenario that cannot be imagined by a mind in the midst of depression, by a person who may not even be able to make simple decisions in the present.

Instead – take things one day at a time. And yes, gradually things do get better. Or at least easier.

One example that comes to mind is of a woman I met whilst dealing with my own issues. This woman was also a patient. When I first met her she wandered aimlessly around, muttered nonsensical statements. She did not know what day it was and talked to herself constantly. Her eyes never focused on anything. She could be confrontational and sometimes downright abusive. She would carry a bag that she would use to horde a variety of items. Letters. Socks. DVD’s. Cutlery. Anything she could get her hands on that wasn’t nailed down.

On my last few days knowing her, this woman transformed. She became coherent enough to remember conversations I had had whilst she was in the vicinity. She asked me how I was. How my weekend was. Her eyes were no longer swivelling but straight and considerate. She was no longer wandering aimlessly. She was getting back to her old self. More than anything, she looked tired.

The change was absolutely remarkable. I thought she was degrading but she proved me wrong.

It was a day-by-day process. Don’t push someone suffering from mental health. If you are suffering from mental health issues – take baby steps. Go slow. Take your time. One step and one day at a time.

Photo above – finished serving trays just after they had been sealed with wax.

Male Suicide – Underfunding

Heard of Project84? No? Me neither until about a week ago.

Project84, a new campaign undertaken by calm, is named for the 84 men who kill themselves every week. Calm chose to do this by erecting 84 statues on top of a London building. Check out the pictures. I, for one, was impressed by the images for the campaign. Any person walking the streets and looking up would feel the instant lurch of worry that people may really be up there and ready to jump.

It raises awareness for male suicide – the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. I am focusing on male suicide in this post because I have recently been talking about stigma in regards to mental health.

Men suffer more in the realm of stigma when it comes to mental health. For a long time there has been a fear among men to talk about their feelings. To open up and discuss deep-rooted issues. I felt it myself before I really started talking. But it is not only that there is a great deal of silence from men, there is also a vast gap in resources where mental health is concerned.

I will give a brief summary of my journey with mental health as an example.

I was at university the second time I was struck by depression. I walked to the local hospital and into the main reception. When I asked if there was anyone I could see regarding depression the ladies behind the desk said there wasn’t anything to cater for it in the building.

My Dad told me to see if the university offered counselling. They did so I booked an appointment. Two days later I was seen by a counsellor, told her my problems and hoped that her words might change my world.

They didn’t. After hearing my story she asked me if I had any hobbies. I told her I liked climbing. She told me that was good. That it showed I was ascending in some way.

Two hours later I slit my wrist by a dumpster. I was taken to hospital and patched up. After that I was seen by the Crisis Team and moved back to West Sussex where I continued meeting with the teams and getting my life back on track.

In my last depressive episode I went to a different hospital to ask to see someone regarding my mental health. At this point I wanted to commit suicide but was forced by my partner to keep on fighting.

When I got to the hospital I was seen to by a psychiatrist who offered me a weeks worth of diazepam and sleeping pills and then gave me a pamphlet for the local commumity team.

I was told that the community team would try to contact me in two weeks time.

A few days later I tried to leave my fiance at her door in order to go and step in front of a train. A crew turned up from a bespoke paramedic unit and told me that I was going to be taken to the psychiatric ward.

There were no beds in the local unit so I had to travel from Crawley to Eastbourne General. I stayed there four nights. At one time when I was allowed out I walked away from the hospital and up to Beachy Head. It was raining. I was cold. I had turned my phone off and I carried a piece of flint sharp enough to cut and planned to jump from the cliffs.

It was only when I realised the effect it would have on my fiance that I turned around and head back to the ward.

Anyway, I finally got a bed in the Crawley ward at Langley Green. I was transferred and seen to by a clinical psychologist.

Until a person hits critical point there is very little that can be done for those who suffer mentally. The services are simply not there in the initial stages and it’s only when an attempt at suicide is made that there is a response.

These two factors combined (men not wanting to talk and a lack of resources) are a deadly mix. There should be more funding for mental health services and there should be a large scale movement to encourage men to speak about their problems. Day by day this seems to be changing. But my experience makes me believe that it is not happening quick enough.

I only hope this blog post does a little bit toward helping that.

Photo above – a set of drill pieces for woodwork