Living on the ‘dark side’ of Double Street

Joy Taylor and Gareth Matthews
Joy Taylor and Gareth Matthews

“You wouldn’t catch me carrying a beer can in my hand, or with a fag in my mouth, or swearing in the street.”

Residents of Double Street in Spalding have spoken out against the Channel 4 TV programme Benefits Street, which claims to reveal the reality of life on benefits.

Joy Taylor lives with her partner, Gareth Matthews, in Welland Mews – one of three blocks of social housing owned by Longhurst and Havelock Homes Ltd in the street. She said: “We are not feckless down and outs or alcoholics or drug addicts. The programme makes out we are all losers, scroungers and bad people, but that’s just not true. There’s so much hatred out there – it’s sheer prejudice.”

Celebrating her 40th birthday today, Joy said she never wanted to live a life on benefits but ill-health had prevented her from holding down a job.

She said: “When I was young I wanted to be a beautician or a hairdresser. If I thought I could hold down a job without having a panic attack I would.”

Life has been harder since Gareth was forced to move in with her from his own flat because of benefits cuts and the bedroom tax – but it doesn’t seem easy for anyone in the block.

On a ground floor flat door there is an eviction notice next to a boarded-up window where someone has written ‘why hasn’t this been been fixed?’.

The lounge of Joy’s flat is crammed with boxes from Gareth’s move, leaving hardly enough room to swing one of their two cats and just a small seating area in front of the TV.

Joy said: “Our television is our only luxury. Everything else we have is second-hand. People think we are loaded just because we go on the odd day trip, but even though our lives are not perfect, we just live quietly and get on with it.”

Elsewhere in the building, a neighbour studies to complete his Open University IT course.

Sitting in the darkness of his cold, sparsely furnished lounge, the 50-year-old said he had been unemployed off and on since moving back to the area after leaving the forces 15 years ago.

He said: “I can’t watch Benefits Street – it’s too depressing. But you can always switch it off.

“A lot of people who are unemployed are respectable. But living like this is like a world apart from people I see with jobs going about their daily lives. It’s a lonely life but it is hard to meet people when you have no money to go anywhere with.

“In four months I’ll have finished my course and I’m out of here.”

A spokesman for Longhurst and Havelock Homes Ltd said: “Over 35,000 people have been affected by the bedroom tax in the East Midlands, including some of our residents.

“Our team of neighbourhood officers have been working closely with those affected to provide assistance and practical support as the needs arise.

“With regard to the maintenance of this scheme, we have well-established repairs protocols and policies in place which apply to all our rented properties.

“The window repair highlighted is scheduled to take place within the next two weeks.

“The communal areas on this scheme are routinely cleaned and maintained however, as you would expect our residents have a responsibility to look after their own homes.”