COMMENT: Shock that ghost of Charles Dickens is still alive

By Paul Watson

A career spent in local journalism led to me to believe that I had been there, done that and got the proverbial T-shirt.

My articles this week for the special reports on the work of Uckfield Citizens Advice left me dismayed, sometimes angry and upset at what abject poverty and suffering exists and can be found in the 21st Century in the so-called affluent South East.

Tiny coal fire

Early in my journalistic career I would visit homes of very elderly war widows (World War 1). They had a tiny coal fire for heating and cold water was either from a shared outside tap or a well.  Hot water was boiled in a kettle on the open fire.

There was, of course, no sewerage system.

Houses condemned

In those days my reports from council meetings were often about bringing piped water and sewerage to homes and councils condemning other properties and issuing demolition orders because of the poor state of the property.

Covering what were known as the slum clearances was another of my specialities. Street by street I visited families as the bulldozers approached to get their stories and memories…my then boss always wanted a photograph of the street’s VE party.


I saw close up what poor was. I saw the hardships of these folk who often didn’t want to leave their cold damp homes for the warm blocks of flats they were being moved to with all mod cons.

That was the late 1960s early 70s and I had long forgotten such hardships and was surprised to find from Citizens Advice there are still people living – stoically it has to be said – in utter poverty.


When it comes to homelessness, I had wondered during last summer if there were instances of rough sleepers. There seemed to be some anecdotal evidence that might be the case.

However, I had no idea of the scale of hidden homelessness in Uckfield.

The real life case studies provided by Citizens Advice shocked me out of my complacency.

Some of what I learned could have come direct from the pages of a Dickens’ novel.

Dire straights

Everyone will be aware that we are not all equal but it was a shock to find that some folk were in such dire straights.

My sadness at such despair was lightened by knowing that those working for the Citizens Advice service, mostly volunteers, are the knights in shining armour, ready to ride to the rescue and put right some awful wrongs.

Value for money 

It was also clear to me that the money spent by local councils in grants is well spent.

In such difficult financial times for local authorities, it is hard  for councillors to know where to allocate scarce resources but with Citizens Advice they get a big bang for their bucks.

To finish on some high notes, Kay Birch, the chief executive of Wealden Citizens Advice had great praise for Wealden District Council and how its staff dealt with clients as people and not as a nuisance or a number to be cleared from the books as quickly as possible, with no care as to the consequences.

Praise for district council 

To know such caring staff are at work for Wealden DC is a comfort and the attitude and standards with which they carry out their work is surely a reflection of the organisation’s ethos which will have been set from the very top.

She also paid tribute to the support given by Uckfield Town Council and the other councils which support their work.

And when we praise, let’s hear it loud and clear for Wealden Citizens Advice. Goodness knows where some of the most disadvantaged people in our society would be without them.

Earlier in this six part series:

Part One: Hundreds helped every year by Citizens Advice

Part Two: A last resort for those in crisis

Part Three: Uckfield’s homeless problem

Part four: Living with no heat or hot water

Part five: Who pays?

See also:

Police target drug dealing in Uckfield

Round-up of business news

What’s on in the Uckfield area

Find local organisations in our Uckfield Directory

How to advertise on



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