The shocking rise in homelessness is caused by a party that governs in the interests of the rich
Walking through Manchester city centre on a bitterly cold morning, it is impossible to ignore what the Public Account Committee has called a ‘national crisis’; the shocking rise in homelessness since 2010, the year the Tories came to power and began their austerity programme.
Every 10 or 20 yards is a person wrapped in a wet sleeping bag or cocooned in a tangle of damp cardboard trying to shelter from the relentless Manchester rain. These are people whose homes and lives have been sacrificed by a Tory government intent on destroying the welfare state and pursuing a programme of austerity, not a policy of necessity as the country has run out of money, but a policy designed to redistribute money and resources from the poorest to the richest in our society.
The National Audit Office has reported a 60% increase in households, which include 120,540 children, living in temporary accommodation and a 134% increase in rough sleepers since 2010. Homelessness among people with mental and physical health problem has increased by 75%. These figures are stark enough but according to Shelter “are likely to underestimate the true extent of homelessness as they did not include people trapped in so-called ‘hidden homelessness’, who have nowhere to live but are not recorded as needing housing assistance, and end up ‘sofa surfing’.
Shelter have warned that more than a million households are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020. The greatest increase in homelessness has been caused by evictions from private tenancies which have become increasingly unaffordable for people on low incomes, with private sector rents having gone up by three times as much as wages since 2010. Stagnating wages, an unregulated private rental sector providing high cost, poor quality accommodation, cuts to welfare benefits and a scarcity of social housing have led to a homelessness crisis of epic proportions.
The Public Accounts Committee has called the government’s response to reducing homelessness ‘utterly complacent’. With Tory policies causing this increase in homelessness and a response by the government that is both callous and wilfully in denial and indifferent, ‘complacent’ is an undeservedly generous interpretation.
Just before Christmas Theresa May responded to a question about child homelessness in her own constituency by saying that those children are ‘not sleeping on the streets’, thereby dismissing the plight of 2500 homeless children living in poor quality, over-priced, over-crowded temporary accommodation.
Simon Dudley, the leader of Windsor council, recently wrote to the Thames Valley Police demanding that they use their powers to remove people sleeping on the streets and begging; the Tories wanting the streets of Windsor air-brushed and sanitized for the perfect royal wedding. It is poverty that pays for the royal family; money taken from the poorest and most vulnerable to pay for those that really do get something for nothing. This is the true face of the Tories’ response to homelessness, the demonization and criminalisation of the victims of austerity Britain; the victims of Tory policy.
What can be done to prevent and reduce homelessness? We must call for the regulation of private tenancies, a massive increase in social housing, the reversal of welfare benefits cuts and decent wages for everyone. We know that this cannot be achieved while a Tory government is in power; a government which is hell-bent on pursuing austerity, the very thing which has caused this outrageous rise in homelessness.
Homelessness is not inevitable. In one of the richest countries of the world, no one should be homeless. That people are homeless is a matter of political choice by a party that governs for the benefit of the few, not the many. Most of all we must continue to campaign and protest until this Tory Government is kicked out of power.
Steph Pike a is a revolutionary socialist, feminist and People's Assembly activist. She is also a published poet. Her poetry collection 'Petroleuse' is published by Flapjack Press.
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