The UK government has announced measures to try and protect rough sleepers from the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. In doing so, it has effectively solved rough sleeping, albeit temporarily. But this move begs the question: why the hell haven’t the Tories done this before?
Coronavirus: more UK government action
Sky News tweeted on Friday 27 March:
The Government has written to all local authorities in England asking them to house all people sleeping rough,those in hostels and night shelters by the weekend in a bid to protect people during the covid-19 outbreak
— Sky News Breaking (@SkyNewsBreak) March 27, 2020
Yes, it’s true. The government has told councils to get every homeless rough sleeper off the streets and into accommodation. At the time of writing, the government hadn’t released the finer details of how this is going to work. But people on social media were already pointing out a major problem with the scheme. In short: why has it taken coronavirus to sort this?
It's taken a deadly pandemic for them to do this
— Jayne Derench 💙♿🌈 (@tranzmental) March 27, 2020
As M Mac said:
Otherwise it has been fine for them to sleep on streets
— M Mac (@1frazzled1) March 27, 2020
Others weren’t convinced the Tories’ move would be long term:
Then chuck ‘em all back on the streets when this is all over. Don’t actually DO anything about the root causes of homelessness. https://t.co/DdUIy4mU8k
— Stella Thomas (@StellaT59393910) March 27, 2020
As that Twitter user pointed out, the government’s plan is clearly temporary. But given what has happened in the UK over the past decade, it is absolutely staggering that it’s taken a pandemic for the government to act.
The Tories shocking record on rough sleeping
As The Canary previously reported, rough sleeping increased by 141% between 2010 and 2019. Nearly 25,000 people slept rough in 2019. FullFact also said that 726 rough sleepers died in 2018, although this may be an underestimate.
Prior to this coronavirus-related announcement, the Tories’ response has been piecemeal. They finally put £112m aside for a rough sleeping “Initiative” in January of this year.
Of course, what the Tories’ announcement on housing rough sleepers doesn’t address is rocketing homelessness generally. It’s a crisis which has become entrenched under successive Conservative-led governments. For example:
- Statutory homelessness (those people in priority need of rehousing) went up by 39% between 2009 and 2017.
- By March 2019, the number of households in temporary accommodation had increased by 75% since December 2010.
- In 2019, child homelessness hit its highest levels in over a decade.
- At least 320,000 people were homeless in 2019.
- The number of homeless people being admitted to hospital rose by 130% in the past five years.
So, the government is now addressing the effects of coronavirus on rough sleepers. But it has done nothing for those in temporary accommodation or the “hidden homeless” – for example, people sofa surfing. These people could potentially be at high risk of catching coronavirus due to increased contact with people; consequently, they would also be at higher risk of spreading it.
As Labour’s shadow housing secretary John Healey summed up during the 2019 general election:
Rising homelessness is a direct result of decisions made by the Tories: slashing investment in new low-cost homes, refusing to help private renters and making huge cuts to housing benefit and homelessness services.
Indeed, the homelessness crisis has been a long time coming.
By 2017/18, the number of homes built for social rent had fallen by 80% compared to a decade earlier. Meanwhile, the Tories have only just increased the Local Housing Allowance in response to the pandemic. This is the amount of money people can get in welfare to help with private renting costs. And by 2021, the government will be spending £37bn less than in 2010 on welfare, including a pre-coronavirus planned cut of a £2.3bn cut in Housing Benefit. Moreover, in England, there has been around £1bn worth of cuts to homelessness support services. All of this has created a perfect storm for people in precarity.
So, after all this – the Tories finally decide to get rough sleepers off the streets? The plan, while in some respects sensible, does little more than whitewash their record on the homelessness crisis that’s gripped the UK for over a decade. And after the pandemic is over, it’s more than likely it will be business as usual again. The Tories’ hypocrisy in acting now simply stinks.
Featured image via Sky News – YouTube
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