The number of homeless families in Britain has increased over the past year by a staggering 11%. Data published by the UK government estimates that during the first three months of this year, the number of homeless families had reached 25,130. This is well up on last year’s first quarter figure of 22,700. Whilst the Tories and their rich friends fill their pockets with gold, families all over the country suffer the harshest of conditions.
Alongside this, the number of children hosted in temporary accommodation (hostels and B&Bs) is the highest on record, 83% higher than it was in 2011. It is all too clear that the root cause of such shocking conditions, to name but two, are: ever increasing rents, frozen housing benefits, and a long waiting list for social housing. All problems stemming from years of Tory austerity and a system that serves profit not people. Only a radical socialist Labour government can put an end to this.
Although the government’s recent Homelessness Reduction Act came into law in 2018, it only serves as a short-term and clearly partial solution (if that) to a problem that requires long-term planning and fundamental action. The Act calls upon housing agencies to intervene earlier to prevent homelessness. However, Dr Luke Heselwood of the public services think-tank Reform has said that, “Although the number of people who have secure accommodation has… risen, it does not meet demand… Too many people are stranded in temporary accommodation, which is insecure and costly to the taxpayer. Short-term thinking and funding has blighted homelessness services.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis adds: “The government needs to tackle the root causes of this issue – investing in building more social housing and restoring Local Housing Allowance (LHA), so that it covers the true cost of renting.” This truth is that they are not interested in that.
There are over 220,000 empty houses throughout the UK, enough to house almost every homeless person. Yet the capitalist mindset is to put profit above the most vulnerable people within our society. The immediate solution is simple, seize the unoccupied dwellings and put them under public ownership.
Shamefully, some councils, such as Manchester city council, are criminalising rough sleepers to try and get them out of the public view. Through Public Space Protection Orders, rough sleepers may be charged a fixed penalty of up to £1,000 for the following: “Occupying a tent or other temporary structure in a manner which is likely to create a health and safety risk for other people; continuing to obstruct a building entrance/exit, stairwell or highway after being asked to move; urinating or defecating in a public space (except a toilet); aggressive or intimidating begging.”
How have we come to a state of demonising the most vulnerable, rather than giving them the helping hand needed? It says volumes about capitalist Britain that the only way forward being offered is to push the homeless out of sight, no doubt hoping they will just disappear.
Socialist Labour government
The Tories are doing everything they can to keep all these damning statistics off the news agenda. With Brexit dominating, the increase of homelessness, usage of food banks, and precarious work are all being swept to one side. Of course, we should be clear: even if Brexit wasn’t hogging everything, the Tories still would not be taking any action. The reality is that the homeless are not profitable and therefore do not matter. The human consequences can be seen nightly in our streets and cities up and down the country.
Only a socialist Labour government that nationalises the commanding heights of the economy can put an end to this barbarism. Labour should act to: return all housing association stock to council control with proper funding made available for maintenance and development, freeze all rents at an affordable level, implement a major programme of council house building to meet demand, takeover empty accommodation being used by the rich for property speculation to house needy families, nationalise the construction companies that profiteer at our expense, and clear out the Rachmanite landlords who dominate the rented-accomodation market.
Labour’s pledges to build 155,000 social houses a year and to give new rights to tenants and first-time buyers is a start but, under a socialist housing programme that will remove the scourge of homelessness once and for all, the cry must be: homes for all!