The sight of poor Iain Duncan Smith being asked by a group of girls on an East London estate whether he had ever been “pleasured” was almost too much to watch. But that was the point. Four MPs were set the challenge of living on tough council estates for a week in Tower Block of Commons on channel 4 last night. Inevitably the huge mismatch in cultures gave the MPs plenty of opportunities for social faux pas. Tim Loughton trying in vain to buy copy of the Daily Telegraph, Austin Mitchell seemingly amazed that drug use actually happened on council estates, and Mark Oaten stereotypically predicting that he would be “Eating lots of McDonald's and watching Coronation Street". But to give these guys credit at least they had agreed to take part.
What it also showed was how cheap to build tower blocks, take their toll out of the people who live there. Cathy from Dagenham showed how getting through the security measures needed to get in and out of her estate was like escaping from prison. After years of trying she seemed to have resigned herself to staying in, a clearly intelligent woman sitting bored in front of the telly. The cheap fabric of the buildings was costing people too. Damp walls covered in mould were apparently dismissed by the council as merely condensation. Of course it’s condensation – the building is too poorly insulated and ventilated to stop it. A shocked Mark Oaten resorted to something he felt he could do to help and started a campaign for getting the blocks demolished. Probably a good start, but only helpful if the residents are given the opportunity to live somewhere better.