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Bronson Battersby and the hollowing out of working-class communities

The tragic deaths of the two-year-old and his father have exposed the atomisation of British society.

Lisa McKenzie

Topics Politics UK

The tragic deaths of 60-year-old Kenneth Battersby and his two-year-old son, Bronson, should be a wake-up call for those who dismiss the importance of class in modern Britain. Kenneth and Bronson were found at their home in Skegness, Lincolnshire on 9 January. It is believed that Kenneth died of a heart attack, while Bronson died from starvation and dehydration, curled up beside the body of his father. Bronson died because there was simply no else to care for him.

Bronson lived alone with his father, who was having difficulties adapting to life as a single parent. As a result, Kenneth turned to social services for help. Because Bronson was classified as ‘vulnerable’, the father and son were supposed to receive regular check-ins from social workers. One such visit was scheduled for 2 January. But when the social worker knocked at the door, there was no answer. Two days later, the social worker came back with police, but once again left the premises when no one came to the door. Police eventually gained access to the Battersbys’ flat on 9 January, where they found the bodies of both Kenneth and Bronson.

The authorities now think that Kenneth died sometime around the New Year. And it is believed that Bronson may have been without food or water for up to 11 days. The day after their bodies were discovered, the back window of the flat was prised open and Kenneth’s wallet was stolen.

How could something like this happen in 21st-century Britain? The local council and the police have since launched reviews of their actions in an attempt to uncover what went wrong. Some have said the problems were down to a lack of resources. Others have said more training is needed for police and social workers. And undoubtedly all are important. But there is a far larger problem that cannot be fixed by blaming agencies or individuals – namely, the structural and organised decline of parts of the UK.

Particularly important in this regard is the phenomenon of ‘social cleansing’ – something I have been writing about for a decade. Social cleansing is the forced movement of ‘unvaluable’ people away from ‘valued’ areas of the country. In London, for example, the city’s poorest residents have been pushed out into more deprived areas for at least the past 20 years. Families who have always lived in London are often told they’ll have to move to places as far afield as Hastings, Birmingham or Manchester if they want to continue to live in social housing.

This story is the same all over the UK. People deemed undesirable are packed off to impoverished communities, becoming ever more isolated. In turn, this transforms those communities into more atomised, lonely places.

Skegness is one of those places. Like many British seaside towns, it was once a thriving holiday destination. Some of my favourite childhood memories come from the two weeks a year we’d spend on holiday there, like many other families in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. I remember the community we’d form in the Miners’ Home chalets, the warm welcome of the Jolly Fisherman pub and the live music at the Starry Night Ballroom.

But Skegness has long been in steep decline. Over the past several decades, the communities that would have previously visited have been devastated by deindustrialisation. Large parts of our country, and consequently our people, have been left in ruins. These places are often described as being ‘left behind’, but this is not quite true. In reality, they were purposefully and structurally demolished. They were systematically run down as the focus, investment and political interest went almost exclusively into the cities.

Skegness, like many places around the UK, has been written off. It’s where the poorest are dumped, including immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, in hotels and boarding houses. While private rented accommodation is cheap, this is because the whole area has mostly seasonal and very poorly paid work. There are few transport links to anywhere. The people who are moved here are almost all doomed to fail. There are few resources, no wealth and no prospects. The consequence of all this is that building any kind of stable community is almost impossible.

That is one reason why Kenneth and his young son slipped through the cracks. Yes, social workers and police could have done more to enter their flat. But ultimately, there was a time when the landlord or neighbours would have noticed that something was off. They might have found it strange that the last time anyone saw the pair was on Boxing Day. One upstairs neighbour even heard a clatter of pots and pans and Bronson crying for his daddy in the early hours of New Year’s Day. In a more cohesive and stable community, these kinds of incidents would not have gone unnoticed.

This is how a father can come to be so isolated that he can die alone without anyone realising. This is how a toddler can starve to death. Not because of any one individual’s neglect or cruelty, but because there was no one else who cared.

The story of Kenneth and Bronson shows a society that lacks any sense of community. And it reveals a nation where class inequality is as deep as ever.

Lisa McKenzie is a working-class academic.

Picture by: Facebook.

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Topics Politics UK

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