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Articles > Culture March, 14, 2016

Council Estates Are Not Flea-Infested Hellholes!

Laura Edwards
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I recently read a thought-provoking article on The Opinion Panel called ‘Escaping the Council Estate’ by a student who, quite rightly, pointed out the difficulties of achieving when coming from a socially ‘less desirable background’. However, despite all the issues associated with council estates and the people that live on them, I have little desire to leave.

Media target people from the council estate. See them through a different lens.

Photo by Mike Dixson

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t mind a 4-bed semi in a quiet cul-de-sac with a nice car—who wouldn’t? But the desire to run towards Waitrose, skinny macchiato in hand as I dust off my chav germs, strikes me as a big part of the problem. Council estates are not flea-infested hellholes that need to be escaped: they are areas of deprivation where people make ends meet, know the names of their neighbours, support one another, and survive. Council estates need successful kids to stick around long enough for some of their aspiration to rub off.

I’m not speaking as a distant social commentator. I’m from a council estate. At 15 I ran away from home with a teenage car thief, smoked lots of weed, had two kids and signed on. Typical, right? However, I’m now 30, finishing a degree in Clinical Psychology (better late than never), two intelligent teenagers at home, married to a pastor (the car thief reformed), and well on the road to gaining the experience I need to step onto a doctoral programme . . . And I still live on the council estate.

“A large proportion of our population is made up of working class families, so why on earth does society make achieving anything so difficult for us”

The majority of people I mix with through my degree and my work with the NHS don’t live on council estates, and I may have become more like them in my aspirations, attitudes and mannerisms. But this doesn’t mean I have to reject the culture I was raised in. Of course, social mobility comes hand-in-hand with educational achievement. Statistics agree that ‘council estate kids’ generally don’t perform as well educationally as their middle-class peers. They often don’t attend the same schools, or share the same family structures, postcodes and generational aspirations, so it’s no surprise that privileged kids stand a better chance in the long run.

One of the biggest hurdles between council estate kids and vocation is finance. After graduation, if they get that far, when their oh-so-generous £9,000 government loans and lectures are a distant memory, council estate kids go back to the bottom of the pile, no matter how talented or determined they are. After overcoming multiple social barriers, completing a degree without a foundation of private schooling and working a night job to pay the rent, the council estate graduate is now expected to intern for free in order to gain experience for the job they’re already doing, whilst presumably living off magic beans.

This is where the Bank of Mum and Dad would come in handy, if only mum and dad had a bank account, or, indeed, if mum or dad were even available for comment. Even at this level, the more privileged kids have a massive head start.

A large proportion of our population is made up of working-class families, so why on Earth does society make achieving anything so difficult for working-class people? Despite the recent media portrayal of the typical ‘Benefits Street’ estate, many working-class families produce happy, healthy, well-rounded members of society. Claiming that we need to ‘escape the council estate’ in order to fully integrate into society does nothing to alleviate the negative stereotypes of working-class families—it suggests that ‘working class’ is a virus that needs to be eradicated. What is needed is a change in the system that perpetuates this view.

The fundamental issue for working-class kids is not the council estate. It’s not their alcoholic neighbours, the police outside at 3am, nor their best friend who is pregnant at 15. It’s not even that they’re competing with kids who have more money, extra tuition and supportive families. The far bigger problem is a society that is structured to offer the biggest benefits and rewards to those who already have everything they need, while those who do not must work harder to catch up. Escaping the council estate won’t do much to change that.

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  1. Melissa Tranfield

    Very informative, thought provoking article. Thank you; I hope you’ve published this on other platforms, this us definitely an issue which requires more attention.

  2. alicia robson

    it is horrible thing, as being in care i grew up on council estate blocks and people look down on you and think you wont amount to anything. I think they shouldn’t under credit these flats because of the different people living in them. I had it throughout my childhood, it is a horrid thing to look at someone for the state of where they live, council estates are not always flea ridden places

  3. Sarah Whitehouse

    I think… I completely agree with everything you have said ! There is still the oh they live on a council estate cliche wherever you go, but have they ever actually had a look at who lives on these so called typical housing estates? No they haven’t! Once again people are put into a majority because of their socioeconomical placements! The houses inside are spacious and in most cases well kept and the rent is affordable what’s not to like? Yes there are the token kids who stand on the street shouting every obscenity known to man but ignore them! I like my council estate home !

  4. Lea Keep

    I enjoyed your insight. It is refreshing to see a view like this on the internet. Since starting university education I have been shocked about how low people’s opinion of council states my are are (20 years old). I am from a council estate myself.

  5. michaela hunter

    i too live on a council estate and think this article is as accurate as it can be, we need successful kids to stick around to show our kids you can make something of your life, where i come from everyone throws in the towel at the slightest hurdle and usually its through discrimination from living on a council estate, its sad really that kids feel like that and we really need to help those kids be proud of where they live and strive to make the place and themselves better

  6. koko yasser

    I think this is aweesome