The opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and are not representative of the views of The Hysteria Collective as a whole.
Despite being the 80th biggest country, the UK is currently the fifth largest national economy in the world by GDP. It has the fifth highest number of billionaires globally (56), and UK billionaires are currently $61 billion richer than they were a year ago. The UK also holds the world’s most expensive home, Buckingham Palace, worth $2.9 billion. Yet, roughly 2,688 people sleep rough on Britain’s streets in a single night. In England, 288,470 households were owed assistance from councils to prevent or relieve homelessness in 2019-20. In the last decade, spending on support services for homeless people dropped by £1 billion. The wealth inequality in the UK is unequivocal, and rates of homelessness are growing as a result. So why is our government so reluctant to acknowledge this problem, and why are the necessary resources to solve it not being provided?
In the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto, they pledged to ‘end the blight of rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament by expanding successful pilots and programmes such as the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First, and working to bring together local services to meet the health and housing needs of people sleeping on the streets’. It was claimed this would be paid for by implementing a ‘stamp duty surcharge on non-UK resident buyers’. However, now approaching two years since the election of the Conservatives, little to nothing has been done to solve homelessness in the UK in the ways promised.
In 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic added another dimension to the dangers of being homeless. A briefing by homeless charity Crisis explains that people rough sleeping are ‘three times more likely to experience a chronic health condition including respiratory conditions such as COPD’. They also emphasise the impossibility of those sleeping on the streets, or in homelessness accommodation, to self-isolate or follow safety guidance. Thankfully, the government acknowledged these challenges and allocated £3.2 million to local authorities in order to protect those who were homeless throughout the pandemic. In 2020, the ‘Everyone In’ scheme helped to protect around 37,000 homeless people from the further effects of COVID-19. However, across Great Britain, there is now a ‘continued new flow of people experiencing homelessness since the start of the pandemic‘. This increase comes mainly from people experiencing homelessness for the first time, caused by furlough and unemployment as a result of lockdown.
Whilst efforts to minimise homelessness seemed clear at the start of the pandemic, the shift back towards ‘normal’ life seems to have removed the pressure from the government to act, leaving the needs of homeless people, once again, discarded. The causes of homelessness that existed pre-pandemic, including a lack of affordable housing, income inequality, and austerity, have only become exacerbated by the Tory government’s ruling over the last 19 months, and existed long before. Since the Tories took power in 2010, there was a 165% increase in homelessness. The lack of concern for those experiencing homelessness or the factors that put them there could not be more blatant. If this government truly hoped to eradicate homelessness for good, they would not make cuts to social care, social housing initiatives, benefits, and local homelessness services. The current benefits system is totally flawed, increasing financial strain and homelessness as a result. Furthermore, the recently announced rise to National Insurance will be a ‘heavier burden on the young [and low paid workers] while those with property and share assets will continue to benefit from lower tax rates’. There is only one mention (p. 31) of council housing in the Conservative manifesto, with very little detail, and no plan to increase the number of council houses available as a means to get people off the streets.
The current attitude towards homelessness is nowhere near as firm as it needs to be to solve this crisis. In a country with 56 billionaires, there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to be without safe and accessible accommodation, and there is only so much longer the gross dispersement of wealth in the UK can continue to be accepted. The support provided to those suffering from homelessness at the start of the pandemic proves that the government possesses the resources to solve the crisis, but they simply choose not to. The number of people sleeping rough will continue to rise until real systemic change is made, but recent legislation has made it clear that the government has no desire to reform the distribution of wealth. If there is any time to put our foot on the gas and increase visibility for homeless people and the changes that must be implemented, it is now.
For further information or support regarding homelessness, head to Providence Row, Homeless Link, Crisis, Mungos, or Shelter. All websites offer support for those facing homelessness as well as information on how you can help to solve the crisis. You can also contact your local MP to find out what your council are doing, or to encourage them to take further action.
Image courtesy of Andreea Popa