The Tory led governments since 2010 have a lot to answer for, the austerity policies, the national pay cap and the continued privatisation of our NHS. There is however one area of policy where the conservative governments have failed at a horrendous level. On the issue of homelessness we have seen a failure that has led to a crisis in homelessness in this country. In 2010, when Labour left office, there were 1768 people sleeping rough every night, a reduction of 25% since Blair took office in 1997. A number that was far too high for the 5th richest nation on the planet, yet despite the supposed economic growth we have gone through in 2017 the number of rough sleepers had jumped to 4751. In only 7 years almost 3000 more people were driven out of their accommodation onto our streets.
While this is the more obvious form of homelessness, the true level of “hidden” homelessness is impossible to track. In London alone there is an estimated quarter of a million people who have no fixed address and instead are floating around being put up by a combination of friends and family unable to afford the rent for their own place, let alone the deposit for a house.
The levels of homelessness today can be traced back to Margret Thatcher with her sell off of council houses. The policy which began in 1980 and the “Right to Buy” scheme has left gaping holes in the housing market that are still yet to be filled. Since 2010, the amount of affordable housing built has dropped by 98%. The money gained by the sale of social housing is supposed to be used to build more houses but, perhaps not unsurprisingly, the rate of rebuild is only 1 house for every five sold. After all council housing “just creates Labour voters”.
Not only has this Tory led governments reduced the amount of housing for people to actually live in, their vicious cuts to benefits has also contributed to the massive increase in homelessness. All housing benefits for 18 to 21 year olds have been cut, and as a result more young people ended homeless. When the cap for the maximum amount of welfare one household can receive was brought in, it was the housing benefit that was cut. It didn’t matter that the housing benefit went straight into the pocket of the landlord, all that mattered was the cutting of the welfare bill. The continued cuts to council funding by Westminster is an additional strain on housing services. The obsession of George Osborne of cutting the deficit meant that councils were forced to choose which vital services to cut. Too often this was the housing services directly leading to people freezing on the streets.
A quick google search reveals many of the horrors of being homeless, this story is from Martin from Plymouth. “It all started about 16 or 17 years ago. I split up with my girlfriend, I let her have the flat and the kid and all that lot. Went through the hostel systems, didn’t agree with some of the stuff they done, didn’t agree with the prices they charged. So then I moved in with my brother and he lost his flat. Then I moved in with my little brother. My little brother kicked me out 12 months ago. And two days ago my brother died.” Martin says he is currently sleeping “anywhere and everywhere. It’s cold, wet,” he said. “I’ve been urinated upon, I’ve been spat on, I’ve had food chucked at me. There are good sides to people, people do come up to you and give you food, give you money, speak to you. Sometimes I prefer to sit down and have a conversation with people, rather than have money off them. This world’s messed up and that’s all there is to it. This Government is not doing enough for their own people.”
Its clear to see that there is a real issue in this country that urgently needs addressing. The real question is how? By far the most popular method to reduce homelessness is remarkably simple. Give them a home. The housing first method has been remarkably successful in cutting homelessness in Finland. Approximately 1200 people were taken off the streets in only 6 years. All of this was regardless of any other issues that the person had like drug addiction for example. Evidence collected from areas that have trialed this system showed that it is far easier and more importantly cheaper, to get someone off an addiction if they have a stable home to go to rather than the maze of transitional and temporary accommodation relied upon by the UK’s local authorities.
Another winning feature of the housing first method is national cooperation that it fosters. In order for the scheme to be successful it requires the entire country to be behind it. Once it becomes clear that the homelessness epidemic is being solved by this policy it stands to reason that more and more national problems can be tackled nationally with far more effectiveness that come with the increased economies of scale.
The current charity methods to help prevent homelessness are honorable but completely inadequate. In Royal Leamington Spa, the social inclusion charity P3 are heading out every night to help people by offering advice and getting them away from the dangers of rough sleeping as quickly as possible. However, in just that district, 705 people applied as homeless in 2016. No charity can be expected to cover that number of people. The protection of its citizens should be governments number one priority and we’ve seen a failure in this.
Homelessness is one of the most heart wrenching problems existing in our country today. Over Christmas the stories of people freezing to death broke my heart. It seems so outrageous that in our extremely wealthy country, the 6th richest in the world, there are people who cannot be housed, who cannot be helped. This can be different, it is possible to change all of this and it needs to happen now.