“Cathy” comes home – Cardboard Citizens play goes to Labour Party conference

Homelessness theatre company Cardboard Citizens perform Cathy at Labour Party’s Homelessness Network launch – and present new policy proposals from the stage

The Labour Party launched its new Homelessness Network in Brighton yesterday – with a special performance of Cathy by homeless theatre company Cardboard Citizens.

The play is a response, half a century on, to Ken Loach’s world-changing film Cathy Come Home and has been performed to rave reviews around the country. But this is more than a play. Cathy has become a site of ideas, radical thinking and audience engagement in issues around homelessness.

Policy ideas

At the conclusion of each performance, an interactive section offers audiences the chance to voice opinions and contribute ideas for housing initiatives. At this special performance, however, the format was reversed as actors presented five of the best ideas received to date.

These new “Cathy Laws” were put to politicians and policy makers in attendance, including Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and MPs John Healey, Melanie Onn and Ivan Lewis (see below).

We wish we could be at all the party conferences, the play is so important and so timely

“We are delighted to be performing Cathy at the Labour Party Conference – but we are not partisan, we wish we could be at all the party conferences, the play is so important and so timely,” said Adrian Jackson, Founder, Director and Chief Executive of Cardboard Citizens.

“We are performing for the Grenfell community this week. The show has played up and down the country, in theatres, prisons and hostels – and recently for a month at Edinburgh Festival Fringe – and on every occasion it has touched hearts and minds, and provoked a vigorous post-show conversation, especially in the section where we invite our audiences to suggest laws to improve the situation.


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“Earlier in the year, we performed at the House of Lords, and now we are presenting to an audience which may one day be in a position to change housing policy. This is a privilege, which proves that theatre can be more than mere entertainment.”

Speaking to The Big Issue after the performance, Jackson added: “We are delighted to have performed at the Labour Party Conference – we would like to have done it at all the conferences but only Labour took up our offer.

“It would be wonderful to perform at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. They are the party in government and it would be a great opportunity for them to hear what people have suggested in response to the relentless rise of eviction and homelessness, not least in Manchester of course where the problem in even more visible than in London.”

When we asked Conservative Party HQ if they planned to host Cardboard Citizens at their conference, a party spokesperson said: “I’m afraid there will not be any performance of Cathy this year.”

Instead, the party will relegate talk on homelessness to a fringe event entitled Housing First: How To Solve The Issue of Homelessness and Rough Sleeping.

Powerful theatre

Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, John Healey, said: “The increase in homelessness since 2010 is visible in almost every town and city in the country.

Labour in government will act to reverse rising homelessness

“The Labour Homelessness Network is a mark of our determination that Labour in government will act to reverse rising homelessness, and a recognition of the work that Labour councils are already doing.

“I’m delighted to host Cardboard Citizens at Labour Conference. Their play Cathy is powerful theatre and a hard-hitting reminder of the reality of modern homelessness.”

The Cathy Laws

The five “Cathy Laws” presented to politicians and policy makers are:

  1. The introduction of employment laws to address income disparities, by: regulating or removing zero hours contract; reducing benefit sanctions; improving the rights of those on benefits to earn up to a certain amount without being penalised; and raising income tax thresholds for low earners.

  2. Greater regulation of the property development industry (especially absentee landowners) to hold their investors accountable – in the event of property being unoccupied for extended periods of time, work on new sites not starting within a specified period, or percentages of social housing being too low. This would be enforced by laws allowing the imposition of tax penalties in the event of any of the above.

  3. The introduction of a stronger tenants’ rights policy, including the scrapping of Section 21 notices, stronger tenancy agreements, banning letting agents’ fees and holding landlords accountable for substandard accommodation.

  4. The introduction of rent caps and rent control.

  5. Local authorities prohibited from housing families out of their borough or further than 20 miles from their current home

Photographs by Pamela Raith

Cathy poster