General election 2019: What a tower block's voters wants from MPs

By Laurence Cawley and Dawn Gerber
BBC News

Image caption,
Brooke House was meant to provide luxury housing for executives and creatives

When the term "Basildon Man" was coined in the 1980s, it was meant to capture a supposed new type of voter: one who was entrepreneurial, aspirational and relished the idea of council house ownership. With a general election a few weeks away, what does today's Basildon Man - or woman - see as the key issues?

A young man rushes out of the lift, across the foyer towards the outer door. Asked about the election, he politely but firmly declines.

"The only thing I care about at the moment is getting me and my girlfriend out of here. Out of this place."

When it was built in the 1960s, Brooke House was marketed as luxury housing for lawyers, doctors and business executives. Now, the majority of the block's 84 flats are council-owned and its occupants are diverse, both in age and background.

Many did not want to talk politics when approached by the BBC.

Image caption,
Student midwife Mutale Daka says funding for education is her most pressing concern

Their concerns are varied, according to the tower's Facebook group. Matters range from the noxious odour resembling "a dead farm animal" on the second floor, to the decommissioning of the block's gas supply to the huge building site abandoned on their doorstep (the contractor for a cinema complex recently went into administration).

Some speak of fractured trust between Parliament and "the people".

Resident Mark Murray is less interested in the NHS, housing policy and education. What he wants most from Westminster is not a new policy, sound byte or pledge, but a single virtue shared by all MPs: honesty.

"When you promise to do something and you don't do it, that's dishonesty," says Mr Murray, who has lived at Brooke House for seven years.

He is referring specifically to his view on how Brexit has been handled and believes the issue has broken many people's faith in the government - his own included.

"It needs a change, we need new faces and honest people - it needs to be people who say what they will do and then do what they say."

Image caption,
A number of residents claim the public areas inside of Brooke House are in desperate need of improvement

For student midwife Mutale Daka, education - particularly funding higher education - is the issue she is most concerned by.

The 25-year-old, who combines being a student at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford with work at Basildon Hospital, said the current funding arrangements for student midwives was almost enough to put her off applying in the first place.

The government scrapped the bursaries for trainee midwives and student nurses in 2016. They were replaced with loans.

"Now we don't get that funding and I am on housing benefit and have to apply for a loan, which will put me further into debt.

"A lot of people are being discouraged from becoming student nurses or trainee midwives because of the loans they will have to take out for training. It is the biggest problem."

And Ms Daka fears what she is seeing with people being put off nursing or midwifery because of financial concerns is the beginning of greater staff shortages in the future.

A brief guide to Brooke House

Basildon was built to ease post-war overcrowding in London and the designation order was signed in 1949.

Built in 1960-62, Brooke House was designed by architect Anthony Davies, the chief architect and planner to the Basildon Development Corporation.

Built from concrete with dark brown, handmade, brick cladding, there are six flats on each floor.

The tower block is raised up 8m (24ft) on v-shaped reinforced concrete pilotis.

Zelda Jeffers is equally concerned about the future of the NHS, as well as climate change and the state of education.

But she does not believe any politician, regardless of party, will solve any of the issues.

Image caption,
Zelda Jeffers said she does not trust any politicians

"I don't like any of them, I don't trust any of them and I won't have anything to do with any of them," she says.

"The good thing about governments is they are completely reliable. They always let you down."

That's not to say she doesn't vote - she does.

"I voted to leave the EU because of how it treats migrants and asylum seekers. Yes, that's a different reason, I know, to why many others voted to leave the EU.

"And I vote for local councillors if I know them and like them - but I vote for them as a person."

Image caption,
Many of the Brooke House's residents are concerned about the building site below them which was meant to be turned into a new cinema complex

As for the election, Ms Jeffers says she is "not interested".

When Brooke House was completed in 1962, it was named after the then minister of housing and local government, Henry Brooke.

Whether today's residents would name their home after a parliamentarian, given the choice, it seems unlikely.

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