Theresa May’s ritualistic Tory chanting: “getting people’s lives back on track”
Earlier this month, Theresa May surprisingly unveiled a £40 million package designed to prevent homelessness by intervening to help individuals and families before they end up on the streets. It was claimed that the “shift” in government policy will move the focus away from dealing with the consequences of homelessness and place prevention “at the heart” of the Prime Minister’s approach.
Writing in the Big Issue magazine – sold by homeless people – May said: “We know there is no single cause of homelessness and those at risk can often suffer from complex issues such as domestic abuse, addiction, mental health issues or redundancy.”
“So I believe it’s time we changed our approach. We can no longer focus on tackling the symptoms and immediate consequences of homelessness. We need to put prevention at the heart of a new approach.
“As a first step towards this change, I’m announcing a new £40 million package to both prevent and tackle the causes of homelessness. This will include £20 million for local authorities to pilot innovative initiatives to tackle the causes of homelessness – helping to find solutions for families and individuals before they reach crisis point.”
Earlier this year it was revealed that under David Cameron’s administration homelessness in England had risen by 54 per cent since 2010.
This reflected the sixth consecutive annual rise, with households becoming homeless in London increasing to 17,530 (9 per cent) in the last year alone and 58,000 households across the whole of England.
That’s during six consecutive years of the Conservatives in Office, and six years of savage austerity measures that target the poorest citizens disproportionately, by coincidence.
Or by correlation.
There are a few causes that the prime minister seems to have overlooked, amidst the Conservative ritualistic chanting which reflects assumptions and prejudices about the “causal” factors of social problems and a narrative of individualism. It’s a curious fact that wealthy people also experience “complex issues” such as addiction, mental health problems and domestic abuse, but they don’t tend to experience homelessness and poverty as a result.
The deregulated private sector and increasingly precarious tenancies
“This Government is therefore, very pleased to support Bob Blackman MP’s Private Members Bill, with its ambitious measures to help reduce homelessness.”
Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East, said he welcomed the Government’s decision. He added: “Throughout my 24 years in local government prior to becoming an MP, I saw the devastation that can be caused by homelessness first hand, with too many people simply slipping through the net under the current arrangements.
“By backing this bill, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to an agenda of social justice and also shows that it is willing to listen. I look forward to working with Ministers going forward in order to bring about this important change in legislation.”
Crisis, the national charity for homeless people, welcomed the Government’s commitment but warned that unless “MPs [need to] offer their support at the bill’s second reading on Friday, this historic opportunity could easily be lost”.
Jon Sparkes, the charity’s chief executive, added: “This is a credible and much-needed piece of legislation which now has the backing of the Government, the opposition and the Communities and Local Government Select Committee. The cross-party consensus is there, and we hope that MPs from across the political spectrum will come together on October 28 to vote on the bill.
“Helping people to stay off the streets and rebuild their lives is about basic social justice – it’s the right thing to do – but it also makes good economic sense. New research from Crisis has revealed how preventing 40,000 people from becoming homelessness could save the public purse up to £370m a year, or just over £9,000 per year for every person helped. The logic is clear: preventing homelessness saves lives, but also reduces public costs.
“For 40 years we’ve had a system that fails too many homeless people and turns them away at their time of need. The Homelessness Reduction Bill could help put an end to that injustice once and for all. It is a major opportunity to improve the rights of people currently shut out of the system, whist continuing to protect families with children.”
Lord Porter, the chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents councils and had opposed an earlier draft of the Bill, said granting councils the ability to build homes would be a more effective step towards ending homelessness and the housing crisis in general.
“Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can within existing resources to prevent and tackle it. However, there is no silver bullet, and councils alone cannot tackle rising homelessness. The causes of homelessness are many and varied and range from financial to social,” he said.
“After having worked closely with Bob Blackman, we are confident that the new Bill, if it does go through Parliament, will be in a better place.
“However, it is clear that legislative change alone will not resolve homelessness. If we are all to succeed, then all new duties proposed in the Bill will need to be fully funded. Councils need powers to resume our role as a major builder of affordable homes.”
The shortage of housing and the impact of the Government’s welfare “reforms”
The 2013 annual State of the Nation report by the charities Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) revealed that the number sleeping rough had risen by six per cent in England this year, and by 13 per cent in London. There has been a 10 per cent increase in those housed temporarily, including a 14 per cent rise in the use of bed and breakfast accommodation.
Writing just a year after the highly controversial Welfare Reform Act was ushered through the legislative process on the back of Cameron’s claim to the “financial privilege” of the Commons , the report authors explicitly blamed the Government’s welfare cuts for compounding the problems caused by the high cost and shortage of housing as demand outstripped supply. The researchers found found that the cap on housing benefit made it more difficult to rent from a private landlord, especially in London, and claimed the controversial “bedroom tax” has caused a sharp rise in arrears for people in public housing, particularly in the Midlands and North.
A separate survey by Inside Housing magazine showed that councils and housing associations are increasingly resorting to the threat of eviction, as the loss of an adequate social security safety net is causing increasing hardship for social housing tenants. The reduction of council tax benefit for people who were previously exempt from paying council tax has also contributed significantly to experiences of material hardship, too.
Ministers have emphatically denied that their reforms have contributed to the return of homelessness. However, homelessness has now risen in each of the five years since the Coalition was formed – after falling sharply in the previous six years, and has continued to rise throughout 2016.
The government’s welfare policies have emerged as the biggest single trigger for homelessness now the economy has allegedly recovered, and are likely to increase pressure on households for the next few years, with the new benefit cap increasing the strain, according to the independent research findings in the Homelessness Monitor 2015, the annual independent audit, published by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The housing minister, Kris Hopkins, said the study’s claims were “misleading”. Local authorities had “a wide range of government-backed options available to help prevent homelessness and keep people off the streets,” he said.
“This government has increased spending to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, making over £500m available to local authorities and the voluntary sector,” he added.
It hasn’t worked. This is because, despite Theresa May’s claims, the government tends to simply address the effects and not the real causes of homelessness. Unless the government actually address the growing inequality, poverty and profound insecurity that their own policies have created, then homelessness and absolute poverty will continue to increase.
Hopkins added that the government had provided Crisis with nearly £14m in funding to help about 10,000 single homeless people find and sustain a home in the private rented sector.
Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Homelessness can be catastrophic for those of us who experience it. If we are to prevent a deepening crisis, we must look to secure alternatives to home ownership for those who cannot afford to buy: longer-term, secure accommodation at prices that those on the lowest incomes can afford.”
The Homelessness Monitor study 2015 found:
- Housing benefit caps and shortages of social housing has led to homeless families increasingly being placed in accommodation outside their local area, particularly in London. Out-of-area placements rose by 26% in 2013-14, and account for one in five of all placements.
- Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax contributed to an 18% rise in repossession actions by social landlords in 2013-14, a trend expected to rise as arrears increase and temporary financial support shrink
- Housing benefit cuts played a large part in the third of all cases of homelessness last year caused by landlords ending a private rental tenancy, and made it harder for those who lost their home to be rehoused.
The study says millions of people are experiencing “hidden homelessness”, including families forced by financial circumstances to live with other families in the same house, and people categorised as “sofa surfers” who sleep on friends’ floors or sofas because they have nowhere to live.
Official estimates of the numbers of people sleeping rough in England in 2013 were 2,414 – up 37% since 2010. But the study’s estimates based on local data suggest that the true figure could be at least four times that.
The Department for Work and Pensions also announced last month that it was cutting funding for homeless hostels and supported housing for disabled people by reducing supported housing benefit rent payments for three years. The homelessness reduction bill in the current policy context is yet another example of how Conservatives don’t seem to manage coherent, joined up thinking.
“The Government’s proposals will compromise the right for people with a learning disability to live independently, and must be reconsidered urgently,” Dan Scorer, head of policy at the learning disabilities charity Mencap, warned after the announcement.
Meanwhile Howard Sinclair, the chief executive of the homelessness charity St Mungo’s, said the cut would leave the homeless charity with £3 million a year less to spend on services.
“The rent reduction will threaten the financial viability of some of our hostels and other supported housing schemes and offers no direct benefit to vulnerable tenants who mostly rely on housing benefit to cover their housing costs,” he said.
It’s just not good enough that the Government simply attempts to colonise progressive rhetoric, claiming they stand for social justice, when they very clearly don’t walk the talk.
Conservative neoliberal “small state” anti-welfare policies are increasing homelessness. The bedroom tax, council tax benefit reductions, housing benefit reductions, welfare caps, sanctions, the deregulation of private sector, the selling off and privatising of social housing stock have all contributed to the current crisis of homelessness.
It was particularly remarkable that May claimed the government are “doing the right thing for social justice” yet the Conservative policy framework is, by its very design, inevitably adding to the precariousness of the situations those people with the least financial security are in.
Someone should explain to the prime minister that “social justice” doesn’t generally entail formulating predatory policies that ensure the wealthy accumulate more wealth by dispossessing the poorest citizens of their public assets, civilised institutions and civilising practices gained through the post-war settlement.
Devolving responsibility for the housing crisis and lack of adequate social security provision to local authorities that are already strapped for cash because of government cuts, and with an ever-dwindling housing stock, won’t help to address growing inequality, or alleviate poverty and destitution.
Let’s Pressurise MP’s To Attend the Vote On the ‘Once In a Lifetime Homelessness Bill’ – template letter to MPs, courtesy of the Dorset Eye
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