11 Jan 2021

Do You Have A Letterbox?

Three, two, one, escalate?

Three Pay Packets

A social worker who specialised in assisting ‘those on the street’ once told me – “we are each only ever three pay packets away from homelessness ourselves” – and anecdotally, we are all aware of those whose home doesn’t come with a letterbox, an issue which compounds the problem as government social services can’t help if you haven’t got one. While there are steps that can resolve this problem, it’s still just one more hurdle to clear on the road back to some form of normality. As I write this, the meteorological service has issued snow warnings that could reach quite low – and since it’s 2:48 am for me, who is out there, right now, while most of us are in our warm secure beds? Except shift workers – and night owls like me. If you own a letterbox, treat it with some respect – three pay cycles from now you might lose it – and it won’t be the letterbox doing the moving, either!

Two Opponents

But it’s not just about the lack of a letterbox – even those with one, still struggle with the basic need to be warm and live in a healthy environment. The government has taken a good step with regard to insulation – although, as always, someone somewhere will find a way to circumvent their responsibilities as a landlord. I can recall talking to a landlord once who had quite a considerable portfolio of rental properties, commenting: “oh, you wouldn’t want to live in one of them!” That didn’t seem to be a problem to him – it’s just business. I haven’t seen him for some years, but I wonder if he’s one who will be scheming as to how he can avoid the issue? After all, it’s just business.

One Fundamental Question

How is it possible to become so callous? Why is ‘it’s just business’ a filter for responsibility and the denial of such a fundamental right as dignity? Why do we even need to be reminded of such an issue? If we were to answer the question “what does it mean to be human?” with “one who must respect the fundamental law that for every right there is a corresponding responsibility,” then the logical conclusion is that the landlord I mentioned above – who has a family – is less than human. It also raises the question as to what values the children are learning in that household – will they continue down the same track? One can only hope not. Physics 101 tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before this particular tinder box is lit.

Zero Tolerance

Violent reaction however, is not a dignified answer – inevitably it only escalates. And while vandalism is a problem for many landlords – not all tenants are interested in their responsibilities either – we cannot let the minority dictate to the majority. This introduces another right often used in an irresponsible manner – the right to refuse. The right to protest does not endow the protestor with some form of moral high-ground. This inevitably becomes a backdoor for very low behaviour, and the repercussions that inevitably follow. The problem has then shifted from the dignity of a liveable home, to the right to protest, to the process of eviction, family breakups, or even convictions – and I’m not talking about moral ones here either. At that point we all become involved – regardless of whether or not we rent or not – because another definition of “what does it mean to be human?” might be “one who respects the fundamental right to have a letterbox.” We live in a world in which we claim the right to send a rocket to Mars – yet we won’t consider the responsibility of defending fundamental dignity.