This government needs to take responsibility for the homelessness crisis

Afroze Fatima Zaidi

It’s no secret that homelessness in the UK is now a national crisis. Figures have skyrocketed over the last decade of Tory rule. And councils are now at breaking point, spending hundreds of millions annually on temporary fixes for homelessness which aren’t working. What’s worse, distracting people with Brexit has meant that no meaningful action on homelessness seems forthcoming from this government.

While it may be easy to try and blame people who become homeless for their own situation, doing so isn’t just insensitive – it’s inaccurate. It’s also deliberate. The mainstream media has failed to bring adequate attention to the Conservatives’ woeful track record when it comes to serving working-class people. And the right-wing press has actively and consistently scapegoated the poorest people in our society and demonised the politicians who might work in their interest. The combined impact of this is fairly obvious through the December 2019 election results.

But what are the actual causes of homelessness? While the current crisis is a result of a combination of factors, all of them can be traced back to Tory austerity at their roots.

1) Cuts to benefits and council budgets

Changes to the benefits system like the introduction of Universal Credit, as well as cuts to disability benefit and local council budgets, are among the key causes of homelessness. Because of a freeze in local housing allowances (LHA), rents remain largely unaffordable. This means that, even for those receiving LHA, private renting has become next to impossible for many. So even though local councils have increased their internal budgets for tackling homelessness, the housing crisis has become a leaky bucket. Councils can’t keep up with increasing demand for the need for temporary housing.

And to top it off, landlords and letting agents are still discriminating against benefit claimants. So it’s no surprise that people are unable to find housing, even after receiving assistance for it.

2) Cuts to homeless services

Aside from austerity cuts to local councils, the government has also cut funding to its ‘Supporting People’ programme (“a major source of funding for homeless shelters”) by 59% since 2010. As of 2018, the number of beds available in shelters had been reduced by a fifth since 2010.

Not only does this put greater pressure on councils to find temporary housing for homeless people, it also puts lives at risk. A study in June 2019 reported a direct link between homeless deaths and budget cuts to councils. The areas hit hardest by local-council funding cuts also saw the highest numbers of deaths among homeless people.

3) Lack of housing options

It should go without saying that while local councils are trying to provide temporary housing for homeless people, and especially families, the real issue remains unresolved.

The housing crisis has come about because of the severe shortage of affordable permanent housing options in the UK. And the Tories have done nothing to address this over the last decade – in fact, the number of social homes built since 2010 has dropped by an astounding 90%. Moreover, cuts to benefit payments, council funding, and homeless services have actively built the homelessness crisis we see today.

Surely, an issue as crucial as housing should be a priority for any government. But because it’s only really affecting the poorest people in British society, it’s no surprise that this Tory government isn’t taking any responsibility for it.

Featured image via Geograph/Evelyn Simak

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