Storms Dudley, Eunice, and Franklin have recently struck the UK. As one after the other hit, many of us stayed at home rather than getting battered by the wind and hail outside.
But what about Britain’s rough sleepers? As trees have crashed down and church spires have toppled, local authorities have temporarily provided severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) placements for rough sleepers. SWEPs mean that emergency beds are given to people to prevent deaths on the streets in extreme weather conditions.
📢Provisions are in place across the country to help anyone sleeping rough in bad weather. This is known as #SWEP.
If you’re concerned about someone, please report their location through https://t.co/1G0MvRMcTT, or check your local council website, so they can send help.
— Shelter Bristol (@ShelterBristol) February 19, 2022
But despite SWEPs supposedly being put in place throughout the country, the public has noticed people remain on the streets, sleeping in the brutal weather.
My 11 year old nephew just returned tonight to Northern Ireland after his first trip to London. He sent a text to my daughter the first night unable to sleep and in tears because he ‘couldn’t help all the homeless people’ because ‘there were too many’. Broke my heart.
— Steve Blair (@UniversalExile) February 20, 2022
Meanwhile, Streets Kitchens has continued to serve food to people who are still on the streets:
& to think #SWEP is supposed to be in place.. ? 🤷♂️
— Streets Kitchen (@streetskitchen) February 20, 2022
Wildly inaccurate government stats
The government’s official statistics put the figure of rough sleepers at 2,688 during the pandemic in autumn 2020. But many are critical of the Tories’ figures, which conveniently show Boris Johnson’s government to be successfully tackling homelessness.
Figures from Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) show that the government figures are likely to be inaccurate. According to CHAIN, in London alone, 11,018 people were seen sleeping rough between April 2020 and March 2021. The Big Issue says:
The figures show rough sleeping has increased by 94 per cent in the last decade – almost double the number of people living on the streets in the English capital 10 years ago.
Homelessness is a political choice
According to recent data, there’s currently a staggering £200bn worth of empty homes in Britain. In England alone, there are 665,628 vacant dwellings. In London there are currently 80,295 empty homes, and they’re worth around £41bn.
A warm shelter is surely the most basic right that someone should have, and there are more than enough buildings to house everyone. Despite this, the Tories continue to put capitalism first, taking zero steps to regulate the property market. After all, it’s their rich speculator friends who are rubbing their hands with glee, sitting on empty properties in prime locations, doing nothing while they watch their properties increase in value.
On top of this, many who own more than one home commonly rake in the money by letting out their properties short-term using Airbnb or short-term property agents. There’s been uproar around the world as Airbnb has driven up rental prices. Properties that would have once been long-term rentals are now higher-priced short-term Airbnb lets, reducing the supply of long-term housing and pricing out local people.
If local authorities are able to open emergency beds during the storms, it begs the obvious question: why can’t the government do it permanently? After all, it was able to hurriedly house people in its ‘Everyone In’ campaign during the first wave of the pandemic.
But perhaps more importantly, why do we accept a government that puts property speculation before human lives?
With higher rents, increased fuel costs, last year’s cut to benefits, and an increasing number of people struggling with their mental health while living through a pandemic, it’s highly likely that the numbers of street homeless people will increase. We need complete system change where everyone has the right to a roof over their heads, and where everyone can afford to heat their homes and feed their children.
Featured image via Leo Reynolds / Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
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