Nick Hedges Photographs of Poor Housing in Britain: Make Life Worth Living

‘Make Life Worth Living’, a photography exhibition by Nick Hedges, is currently on display at the Science Museum in London. It was commissioned by Shelter, a charity working against homelessness to raise consciousness about the poor living conditions many Britons experience. The photographs were taken between 1968 and 1972 and are an intimate glimpse in to the human cost of bad housing.

Make Life Worth Living 3For all the poetry and romantic imagery about the concept of “home”, there are two ideals that it incorporates which are essential for human prosperity: those ideals are safety and stability. The importance of cerebral discussions about these two topics becomes ever clearer when we consider the corporeal fragility of homeless human beings.

What does it mean to have a home? Have you ever really thought about it or have you ever really needed to think about it? ‘Home’ is a much discussed term, not only in literature, but in the fields of sociology, anthropology, psychology and many others. It is a multidimensional concept most commonly associated with the ideas of a house, family, a haven, travelling and a sense of self. When we think of “home”, some of us think of a place, or many places, others think of a feeling, some think of people or practices. Laura Ingalls Wilder once said, “Home is the nicest word there is.”

We know that without a safe and stable living situation, adults and children alike are at a much increased risk of developing mental health problems, long-term physical health problems, drink addictions, drug addictions and are much more likely to be victims of physical assault, sexual assault and an early death. Having worked with homeless young people for many years, I know first-hand that safety and stability does not simply equate to owning a bricks and mortar building. It requires adequate space, clean living conditions and an environment in which one can really feel the value of their human worth.

Make Life Worth Living 1“The thing about people living in slum housing,” Nick Hedges’ states, “is that there is no drama… it’s about the absolute wearing down of people’s morale in a quiet and undemonstrative way.” It is that quiet wearing away of hope that these photographs capture so brilliantly. Living in the UK where homelessness is currently dramatically increasing and housing stability decreasing, this exhibition is more poignant than ever.

Last year, United Nations rapporteur, Rachel Rolnik, reported that whilst Britain has previously been a powerful inspiration when it comes to housing, the progress made is now being eroded and British people “appear to be facing difficulties in accessing adequate, affordable, well-located and secure housing.”

To look at Nick Hedges’ photographs is to remind ourselves of why good, affordable housing is a human right and what we stand to lose if we do not fight for it. “Home” is an active state of being in the world and we must ensure that we do not allow our fellow citizens to sink any further in to the depths of hopelessness. In 2014, we want all human beings to be filled with the sense that life is worth living which starts at home.

‘Make Life Worth Living’ is at the Science Museum until 18th January 2015.

Should Russell Brand Stay Out Of Politics?

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I have a rather embarrassing admission to make. From the ages of 18 to 21 my best friend and I used to spend almost every single Sunday morning YouTubing videos of Russell Brand. We were somewhat obsessed with his stand-up comedy and both quietly confident that if he was to ever meet us, he would fall as head-over-heels in love with us as we had with him. Then, Russell began getting political.

I am not entirely sure what made me shy away from taking an interest in what he was saying but I know that, for several years, I have made a conscious effort to avoid listening to his opinions on ‘serious stuff’. Maybe it was partly because I worry about a political system based on the cult of personality, or maybe, more selfishly, I did not want to experience the fall of a hero when I realized Russell’s charm was entirely sophomoric. But as Russell’s political musings gained publicity, particularly around the issue of drugs and now the conflict in Gaza, my friends have begun insisting that I take notice.

I was filled with joy to discover that, not only does Russell speak utter sense, but also he is courageous enough to say what needs to be said, regardless of the fact it can and will impact upon him negatively. His intellect and courage are laudable but it is his love of humanity that makes him brilliant.

You do not have to agree with what Russell Brand is saying, but you cannot deny that what he is doing is incredibly important. He is promoting debate and interest in politics and the political system; a system that is failing to engage and inspire the next generation and is furtively happy with a lack of public participation.

Russell clearly recognizes the danger of apathy and knows that whilst we continue to stand with our backs turned away from politicians, business people, and media moguls, they will continue to push through personal agendas which only advantage the elite.

Russell received a great degree of criticism when he called for British people to abstain from voting, stating that:

“As long as the priorities of those in government remain the interests of big business, rather than the people they were elected to serve, the impact of voting is negligible and it is our responsibility to be more active if we want real change.” 

There were remarks made by several newspapers that Russell’s proposition was further alienating those who already lack power and was undermining British democracy. But I believe Russell is what the philosopher Cornel West would describe as a ‘deep democrat’. As Cornel states, “democracy is not so much a form of government as a set of principles.” Russell advocates for the core principles of true democracy: accountability, justice, and a fair distribution of power. Though his proposal may seem extreme, it is motivated out of a love of people and a belief that they deserve better:

“The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change. I don’t think it does. I fervently believe that we deserve more from our democratic system.”

With the recent online fracas between Russell Brand and Sean Hannity of Fox News, I have seen numerous Twitter comments calling for celebrities to “stay out of politics.” Such comments are missing the crux of a fair, democratic society. No one should stay out of politics. Behind fame and fortune, celebrities are people too, with personal and political beliefs which are as valid as anybody else. Whilst we should always be wary of the cult of personality, the responsibility rests with us, the receiver of celebrity opinion, to critically analyze any information we hear and make up our own minds about political issues. We cannot and should not prevent others from having their say.

What Russell is saying is not new. The fact that he has managed to wriggle himself into the diminutive group of people who can say what they want and still be published in the papers and shown on television is a game well played. It is likely that if Russell had not been a successful comedian that he would now simply be another well-meaning lefty without the platform to make the necessary change.

As Russell himself acknowledges, he is an obvious target for ridicule: “It’s easy to attack me, I’m a right twerp, I’m a junkie and a cheeky monkey, I accept it.” And I admit, at times, I squirm a little when he makes an incredibly brilliant and illuminating point and follows it up with a cheap comment for entertainment purposes. People castigate his eccentric presentation and his interweaving of jokes with serious issues for undermining the content of what he is saying. Regardless of the fact that his presentation is jocular, Brand is being listened to; the same cannot be said for many of our politicians. Sadly we are at a stage where our comedians are politically braver than our politicians.

It is a depressing reality that more attention is paid to the glitz and glam of Hollywood than is paid to the flaws in our system that mean a poor man can go to prison for falsely claiming £72 a week, whereas a rich man can get away with not paying £120million income tax. It is our reality nonetheless and one that Russell Brand is not responsible for. However, whilst he is part of the glitz and glam, it can only be beneficial that he uses his moment in the spotlight to draw attention to issues of real importance. Long may his moment last.

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