Figures showing that statutory homelessness has soared in England by 27% since this government weren’t elected do not even scratch the surface of the desperate homelessness epidemic.
53,250 families were accepted as homeless in 2014, up from 41,780 five years earlier and the latest official homelessness statistics uncover some stark facts about those without a home. There are now twice the number of families living in B&Bs than in 2010 and the number who have been there over six weeks has leapt by an appalling 500%. This is a practice which had almost died out, but as demand for temporary housing has risen over the the last five years there are no longer enough hostels, refuges and other forms of emergency accommodation for the growing numbers of homeless families.
These statistics come after last month’s rough sleeping estimate which showed that there are now more people sleeping on the streets than since official records began. But neither of these sets of government approved figures come close to telling us the true extent of the homelessness crisis.
In February the Homelessness Monitor report was relased. This is an annual study commissed by charities which looks at the impact of government policies on homelessness. It makes for horrifying reading.
Changes introduced in the way homelessness is managed by local authorities mean that many councils are now using ‘informal’ measures to help homeless families which are not included in official statistics. According to homelessness charities this means that “the bottom line is that we can no longer rely on these figures to show national trends”.
The report points out that “there were some 280,000 ‘local authority homelessness case actions’ in 2013/14, 9% up on the previous year”. In other words many cases of homelessness were swept under the carpet with families often fobbed off into precarious private sector accommodation. And of course as word gets round that all the council will do is send you off to your local slum landlord if you approach them for housing assistance then less people are likely to ask for help.
The majority of homeless people are not included in any figures, anywhere. Local authorities are only duty bound to help people judged to be what is known as in ‘priority need’. That means people with children, those over pensionable age, or people with serious health conditions or disabilities. If you are single, under 65 and not seriously ill then you will be left to fend for yourself. Should you end up on the streets then you may eventually get picked up by a charity outreach worker and offered a place in a nightshelter or hostel. But turn up at the council saying you have nowhere to go that night and most will do little more than shrug their shoulders.
There are around 40,000 single people in Engalnd who are living in hostels or nightshelters – sometimes in dormitory style accommodation. They are not recorded in any formal homelessness statistics. Nobody knows how many people are living in squats, vehicles, campsites or in unregistered providers of temporary housing like grotty B&Bs and backpacker hostels. Then there is the largest group of homeless people by far, the hidden homeless sleeping on a friend’s sofa or in over-crowded family accommodation. The Homelessness Monitor says that an astonishing 2.23 million households contain what they call ‘concealed’ single people in addition to a hidden 265,000 couples or lone parents.
Whilst the true scale of homelessness in England can only be guessed at there is one thing that is certain. Every form of homelessness that is formally recorded is rising sharply, from the (widely believed to be fixed) count of how many people are on the street to the number of homeless families approaching councils for help. Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are directly responsible according to homelessness charities, with benefit sanctions, the bedroom tax and the benefit cap identified as doing the most damage.
David Cameron has pledged to introduce a further benefit cap within weeks of being re-elected whilst both parties appear to favour regional benefit caps. The truth is that benefits have always been capped, currently at £72.40 a week for single unemployed people. What Cameron really wants are caps on Housing Benefit, the government subsidy paid out to landlords which swallows up the largest part of the UK’s benefit’s bill. The result will be more evictions as people are unable to pay their rent whilst more landlords will decide, possibly illegally, not to accept any tenants on benefits at all. As the graph above shows, it is private sector evictions that are driving rising homelessness.
Both parties are committed to so-called affordable rents which barely anyone can afford. In the capital affordable rents on even a modest property can cost more than the total someone would receive working full time on the London Living Wage. Affordable housing means housing for middle class people not the working class. Real council house provision at social rents is being quietly eradicated. Labour have not said they will reverse Right To Buy policies. The Tories say they will extend the great council house sell off to housing association properties.
It is as tragic as it is shocking that so many people should be without a home in one of the richest countries in the world. That not one politician of any main party takes this seriously is the real scandal however. You will barely hear a word about homelessness in the run up to the election. MPs are far more interested in lining the pockets of landlords and property developers than helping homeless people. Many of them are landlords themselves. Almost all have lived such pampered lives that the only time they are likely to set foot in a homelessness hostel or housing office is to have their fucking photo taken standing next to some poor people. They think homeless people are the people you step over when you come out of the opera.
That is why soaring homelessness, which destroys lives, does not even register with the politicians paid and elected to represent us. It will never happen to them so they couldn’t give a fuck.
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