The UK is the fifth most charitable nation in the world – and second only to Thailand when it comes to giving money – that’s according to a recent survey by the Charities Aid Foundation. In the run up to Christmas this is something that we can all surely take great pride in. Sadly the same cannot be said for the way in which we’re tackling homelessness in our country.
The plight of homeless people quite rightly features heavily in the press around Christmas time, as charities and churches right across the country are working even harder, to try and alleviate the suffering of so many of our forgotten people.
Despite all this good work however the situation is getting worse, not least because we now have a Tory-led government that cares far less, about the least well off in our society.
From a peak of homeless households in 2003 / 2004 homelessness in England actually fell year on year during the last Labour government. Overall homelessness went down by 70% during Labour’s time in office.
However recent reports have highlighted that not only is homelessness on the rise here in England, but people who live on the streets also lead significantly shorter lives than the rest of the population, with the average homeless man dying at the age of 47 and the average homeless woman dying at 43.
The sad reality is that since the Tories and Liberal Democrats took office around 18 months ago homelessness in England has gone up by more than 10%. In-fact, in the first 9 months of this year alone homelessness has increased by 13%, compared with the same period last year.
And not only is homelessness rising dramatically under this Coalition government, but there has also been a huge 30% rise in the number of people being placed in short-term B&B accommodation, compared to last year’s figures.
It’s clear to see that a picture of real concern is starting to emerge. According to the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, someone faces losing their home every 2 minutes, and nearly 70,000 children will spend Christmas Day in temporary accommodation this year.
Add to that the findings of a recent YouGov poll commissioned by Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, which found that one in four Brits is seriously afraid of losing their home.
Going forward the situation will almost inevitably get worse as the government continues to reduce funding to local authorities and the voluntary sector, whilst at the same time opts to protect bankers’ bonuses and desperately seeks to reduce the 50p rate of tax, so that the richest 0.5% in society can keep more of their earnings.
A number of planned changes by this Tory-led government to housing benefits next year will also have far reaching consequences, and may well increase the number of homeless people on our streets. One major change that the government plans to introduce will see housing benefit capped at a ‘shared room rate’ for anyone between the ages of 25 and 35 who is currently in receipt of housing benefit.
In other words, many thousands of young adults currently living in private housing will find themselves stuck in a tenancy they can’t afford, as the amount of housing benefit they receive is cut. Those affected will be forced to either try and negotiate a cheaper rent, or move out and try to find cheaper shared housing elsewhere. However with a chronic housing shortage finding a private landlord willing to accept housing benefits and multiple occupants will be a struggle to put it mildly.
Mahatma Gandhi said that “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”, so for a country named ‘Great’ Britain these recent developments are particularly shameful.
But let’s be clear: the shame – and indeed the blame – must lie squarely at the foot of this Coalition government for not only failing to build on Labour’s successes over the years, but for actually standing idly by and allowing homelessness to increase.
Of course homelessness remains a complicated issue, and there isn’t a silver bullet that can solve all the individual needs and problems of any one homeless person overnight. A concerted multifaceted approach is needed and, as Dr Nick Maguire articulates in this brilliant article, tackling homelessness may well require a more psychological focus.
However by slashing funding to local authorities and implementing disastrous changes to the benefits system, by failing to grow the economy and choosing instead to suck the lifeblood of potential growth out of the system, and by putting rigid ideology before people and austerity before charity, homelessness will no doubt continue to increase under this Tory-led government throughout the coming holiday period, and well into the new year.
To make a donation to Shelter please click here.