While over quarter of a million freeze on the streets this winter, almost the same number of houses are lying empty due to capitalist speculation.

Kelly Lane of the Sheffield Marxists looks at the latest homelessness figures from the charity Shelter. While over quarter of a million freeze on the streets this winter, almost the same number of houses are lying empty due to capitalist speculation.

Shocking figures have been released showing the harrowing extent of Britain’s current housing and homelessness crisis. Homeless charity Shelter reported in November 2017 that more than 268,000 people in Britain are officially classed as ‘homeless’. This includes those who are sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation provided by hostels or the council.

The report estimated that 4,100 people are sleeping on the streets. Official government records for autumn 2017 give an even higher figure of around 4,751. This represents a 15% rise from the 2016 numbers.

Official government documents are insistent that their methodology only produces estimates and ‘single night snapshots’ of the crisis. Shelter, however, acknowledge that their report is a conservative estimate. The real figure is likely to be significantly higher.

Furthermore, the Conservatives’ findings claim that 63% of rough sleepers are ‘new’ - people who were bedding down outside for the first time in 2016-17. This is a damning indictment of the government’s inability to protect its own citizens.

London alone contained almost a quarter of all rough sleepers across the country, jumping from 964 to 1,137 between the autumns of 2016 and 2017. In the borough of Newham, 1 in 25 people are officially classed as homeless.

The rest of England suffered a 14% increase in rough sleeping. In the North West, a jump of 39% was seen, with homelessness figures quadrupling since 2010.

Expropriate the speculators

These figures are beyond disgusting when you take a second to think about how many empty homes can be found just in London - houses that are sitting empty while investors lean back and watch their wealth accumulate. Meanwhile, the price of houses in surrounding areas are driven up in price by this speculative investment.

In fact, in 2016 there were 19,845 London homes that sat empty for six months. Their collective market price as of May 2017 would have been £9.4 billion. When people are sleeping rough on the streets and freezing to death, the capitalists are doing nothing but counting their engorged profits!

Over 200,000 empty properties can be found throughout the rest of Britain – more than enough to house every homeless person in Britain as of autumn 2017. (And this is without even adding the almost-20,000 properties in London.)

The only way to ensure that these homes are used to house the most vulnerable people who desperately need help - and not as vehicles for the money of the elite - is through expropriation. Speculators and fat-cat landlords should have their properties seized and placed under public ownership and democratic control.

This alone would be enough to resolve the homelessness crisis in Britain. And that is before building any new housing, which could be easily done if the land, banks, and major construction companies were nationalised and used to launch a mass programme of building social housing.

Tory hollow promises

Homeless uk.jpgHomelessness isn’t a new issue though. Since 2010, rough sleeping figures have risen by 134%. And there are now around 120,000 children officially classed as homeless as a result of living in temporary accommodation. Yet the only reassurance we receive from this Tory government is the claim that they are ‘determined to tackle all forms of homelessness’.

The Tories are resorting to such buzzwords and empty promises in a desperate attempt to try and make one of their many problems disappear. They have promised to invest £550 million by 2020 to address the issue of homelessness. But this pales into insignificance compared to National Audit Office estimates, which reveal that homelessness costs more than £1 billion per year ‘to deal with’. (And let us not forget how easily Theresa May and the Tories found £1 billion for their deal with the reactionary DUP in order to further their own interests.)

This clear demonstrates just how little the government is interested in protecting and helping the most vulnerable in society.

Take back control

What are the main reasons for so many people being homeless? And for such a sharp increase in these figures in recent years?

Both Shelter and the National Audit Office blame the loss of private tenancies, as well as the government’s ‘spending reforms’ (i.e. austerity).

Private landlords, not needing any reason to evict tenants, can and do destroy lives at the drop of a hat in their search for the most profit. Their ruthlessness has seen a tripling of homelessness since 2010-11 due to the termination of private sector tenancies.

Yet the government will not even consider looking at the root of this problem - the parasitic profiteering of private landlords. Clear the Tory Party won’t put any restrictions on landlords...because the majority of the Tories are landlords!

We cannot expect anything from this Tory government and the rotten system they defend. They will never help those who are surviving day-to-day through the humiliation of begging for food and money, or those living with the uncertainty of not knowing which hostel they and their family may be carted off to next month.

The only way to ensure the basic human right of a secure place to live for everyone is through the expropriation of the capitalists and their property: for the nationalisation of the banks, land, construction companies, and large landlords. With these key economic levers in public ownership and workers’ control, we could implement a socialist plan to resolve the housing and homelessness crisis once and for all.

We cannot rely on the ruling class to treat us as humans. It is up to us to take control of the wealth in society that should belong to us, and to use this to create a fairer future for all.