The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 22nd December 2017

Homelessness crisis

by Daphne Liddle

A REPORT published on Wednesday by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee described current levels of homelessness in Britain as a “national crisis” and said that the Government’s attitude to tackling the crisis is “unacceptable complacent”.

Research by the cross-party committee showed that there are more than 9,000 rough sleepers and some 78,000 families living in temporary accommodation. These families include 128,000 children and for the most part the temporary accommodation is in overcrowded hostels. In many cases it is damp, and there are privacy and security problems with shared facilities.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) says it is investing £1 billion on the problem just a few days after a new aircraft carrier on which it has spent more than £300 billion was found to have a serious leak.

What money the Government does spend on the problem is in helping first-time home buyers get easier mortgages — a measure that cranks up the housing market and house prices, making the situation worse.

The definition of homelessness under law includes rough sleepers, single people in hostels and those in temporary accommodation.

Since 2011, the number of people sleeping on the streets has increased by 134 per cent, the report says, whilst those living in temporary accommodation has risen by about two-thirds in the last seven years.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee, says the Government’s approach to tackling the problem of homelessness has been an “abject failure”.

Polly Neate, the chief executive officer of Shelter, said: “Today’s figures are a tragic reminder of the sheer scale of the homelessness crisis in this country. The fact that more than 128,000 children in Britain will be homeless on Christmas morning is unforgivable.

“While most of us are looking forward to Christmas at home, many of these families will wake up in a cramped and dingy hostel room. What is worse, a chronic lack of genuinely affordable homes coupled with crippling welfare cuts means they have no idea how long they will be stuck there for.

“No child should have to spend Christmas without a home. Our frontline advisers will continue to work tirelessly, including on Christmas day, to help more families fighting homelessness. But we can’t do this alone. That’s why we’re asking the public to donate to our urgent appeal.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, who gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, said: “This report confirms the fact that some Government policies are causing homelessness while others are attempting to pick up the pieces. The good news is that with the right changes in policy, homelessness can be ended.

“Over Christmas and throughout winter, thousands of people across the country will be sleeping out in the cold, and thousands more will be trapped in unsuitable temporary accommodation, or sleeping in cars or on public transport, hidden from help.

“The mental and emotional impacts of this crisis cannot be understated: the average age of death of a homeless person is just 47 years old, and they are nine times more likely to commit suicide than the general public. This cannot go on.”

John Healey, the Shadow Housing Secretary, said: “This damning cross-party report shows that the Conservatives have caused the crisis of rapidly rising homelessness but have no plan to fix it.

“This Christmas the increase in homelessness is visible in almost every town and city in the country, but today’s report confirms ministers lack both an understanding of the problem and any urgency in finding solutions.

“After an unprecedented decline in homelessness under Labour, Conservative policy decisions are directly responsible for rising homelessness. You can’t help the homeless without the homes, and ministers have driven new social rented homes to the lowest level on record.”

He could have added that a huge programme of building new homes at genuinely affordable rents is vital — along with controls on rents in the private sector, which have soared beyond what millions of low paid workers can afford.