It might sound stupid, but if you asked 1,000 random people whether they thought homelessness was a bad thing, what percentage do you think would agree?
Conversely, if you posed the exact opposite question to them – whether they thought homelessness was in fact a good thing – firstly you’d definitely get a lot of strange looks, but you can safely assume that next to nobody would genuinely say yes.
Yet, despite there being unanimous consensus amongst the public that homelessness is a bad thing – and despite there being irrefutable proof that we genuinely can solve it (more about that later in the video) – homelessness is rampant in Britain today, and the problem is only getting worse.
So how the hell, in a democracy where we all have the collective power to change things for the better, does the government keep getting away with failing to solve something we all agree is bad?
How bad has homelessness become?
When speaking about homelessness, it’s important to make the distinction between statutory homelessness and rough sleeping.
Statutory homelessness is essentially a term for people who don’t have a suitable permanent legal residence.
This means that anyone living in a tent, in their car, sofa surfing, or in any form of temporary accommodation, is considered statutorily homeless – as long as they’re eligible to access the UK welfare system and they meet a few other simple criteria.
Statutory homelessness is now incredibly common, and the problem is only getting worse. Figures show that almost 230,000 households had no permanent roof over their head last Christmas – a number that has more than doubled from around 100,000 since 2010.
So, full disclosure here: During my twenties, I found myself statutorily homeless on two occasions, despite being in full-time employment – and both times, I didn’t even realise I was technically homeless.
In 2011, after the breakdown of a long-term relationship and the end of our tenancy, I slept on a good friend’s sofa for a few months so I could save up a deposit for a new place of my own.
And, around three years later, I was caught in a similar situation – with another good friend bailing me out that time.
Thankfully, everything worked out for me, but I was one of the lucky ones – because, without the help of some extremely tolerant friends (thank you guys!), I could easily have found myself out on the streets.
Which brings us to the other form of homelessness: rough sleeping.
According to official government figures, there were 1,768 people sleeping rough on the streets of England in 2010. But, by 2017, this figure had risen to 4,751 – an increase of 169%.
However, research conducted by the BBC found that the true number of rough sleepers was actually more than five times higher than government figures estimated – with council responses to the BBC’s investigation showing that nearly 25,000 people were recorded sleeping rough at least once in England during 2020.
The stats are pretty clear: homelessness is rife across the country, and nothing seems to be getting better.
Is homelessness genuinely solvable?
Despite what many politicians claim, homelessness is not a complex issue to solve whatsoever.
When government MPs are quizzed about why homelessness figures keep rising, they often ignore systemic factors – such as low wages, insecure work, or an extremely hostile welfare system – and instead choose to blame individual problems such as addiction, laziness, or poor money-management skills.
Politicians choose to focus on individual problems for a number of reasons – not least because it directs public anger away from their own political failures by dumping all the blame on ordinary people.
However, what all these individual factors completely ignore is that local authorities have a legal duty – a so-called Prevention Duty – to make sure that no UK citizens is made homeless.
But, thanks to decades of government decisions – such as selling off swathes of social housing, and forcing people to suffer ridiculous levels of bureaucracy just to access the system – huge numbers of vulnerable people are being failed.
The fact is that homelessness is not a moral issue, and it is not an individual failure. If somebody becomes homeless in this country, it is because they have fallen through the cracks in our broken system.
So how do we solve homelessness?
When you actually think about it for a moment, homelessness really is an incredibly easy problem to solve.
All it takes is for the government to ensure two simple things.
- That there is always enough social housing to meet demand, and
- That people who need social housing can access it unconditionally
It may sound simple, and that’s because it is. All it requires is the political will to actually do it.
And how do we know?
Finland’s Housing First policy
Well firstly, there is the example set by Finland, who literally did precisely that – by giving people a roof over their head, as soon as people need it, unconditionally.
Finland’s ‘Housing First’ policy works under the principle that people shouldn’t have to solve their problems before they get a home, but that by giving people a home first offers them a secure foundation to help them to solve their problems – and it worked, spectacularly.
In addition to providing housing without pre-condition, the Housing First policy also provides specialised support for vulnerable people – such as those with addictions, mental health issues, and other medical conditions.
Thanks to the Housing First policy, not only is Finland the only country in Europe whose homelessness rate is dropping, rough sleeping has been all but eradicated throughout the entire country.
Whilst Finland has not yet eradicated all forms of homelessness entirely, their statutory homelessness has plummeted to just 5,500 people – an astonishing difference compared to the UK’s total of over 250,000.
However, there is actually a very similar example much closer to home that you might not be aware of.
The ‘Everyone In’ Scheme
Around two years ago, the UK government virtually solved the entire problem of rough sleeping, almost overnight. Seriously.
In March 2020, as the first nationwide lockdown came into force, the government simultaneously launched the ‘Everyone In’ campaign – a scheme which forced local authorities to immediately and unconditionally house all rough sleepers in order to protect public health and stop wider transmission of Covid-19.
During the scheme, which was fully-funded to the tune of around £170m from March until November 2020, approximately 33,000 rough sleepers – more than seven times the number of people the government had previously estimated to be sleeping rough in 2019 – were given a roof over their head, almost instantly.
Thanks to the scheme, as of January 2021, more than 23,000 of those who were helped by the Everyone In campaign had been settled into permanent homes, whilst a further 9,866 were now in temporary accommodation awaiting a suitable long-term home.
Not only did the Everyone In scheme expose the fact that the government was drastically understating the true, enormous scale of rough sleeping, it also revealed just how effectively homelessness could be tackled when the government actually cared about it enough.
However, as lockdown rules were eased, the government also quietly phased out the Everyone In scheme, hugely reducing the amount of extra funding given to Local Authorities to continue with it.
And, as a result, homelessness charities have once again begun reporting that rough sleeping is on the rise – and many are questioning why on earth, given the huge success of the Everyone In scheme, the government has seemingly scrapped it.
So if solving homelessness is so easy, why doesn’t the government just do it?
Even by itself, the government’s decision to scrap the ‘Everyone In’ scheme was mind-boggling. But given the contents of Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto, it becomes even more dumbfounding.
That’s because, during the 2019 General Election, Boris Johnson literally pledged to totally eradicate rough sleeping by 2027.
And, if that promise wasn’t enough by itself, just 11 days after his election victory Johnson went even further, accelerating the plans a full three years by promising to end rough sleeping by 2024.
So why on earth would someone who literally made a solemn pledge to end rough sleeping, simply scrap a hugely successful scheme that was literally solving that exact problem?
Well, firstly, Boris Johnson never thought he’d be in this situation. I mean, not many people could have foreseen a global pandemic where it was essential to house every rough sleeper in the country.
But the truth is that Boris Johnson had absolutely no intention of making good on his promise. He was simply doing what David Cameron and Theresa May had done before him – making an electorally-popular statement about homelessness with absolutely no real intention of backing it up.
But, behind the lies and intentional deceit, there’s a simple reason for their hollow words on homelessness – a simple political ideology that underpins all of their actions: Maintaining the Capitalist System.
Believe it or not, pro-Capitalist politicians such as Johnson, May and Cameron actually view homelessness as a good thing.
For them, homelessness is just a necessary evil that helps keep the cogs of Capitalism whirring, whilst also ensuring that the rich and powerful – including them and their wealthy chums – stay at the top of the food chain.
To Capitalist bosses, the fear of homelessness acts as a warning to workers who hate their crappy jobs and want to quit.
It keeps workers desperate; it helps to keep wages low, and it normalises longer working hours.
And visible rough sleeping essentially acts as a Capitalist billboard – terrifying already-exhausted workers to simply carry on grinding away for a pittance or descend into destitution.
Coupled with a continual lack of housebuilding, homelessness also keeps demand for private housing high, resulting in constant rent increases and soaring property prices – things which only benefit asset-rich landlords and homeowners, whilst again penalising workers and private renters.
Homelessness benefits bosses, and it is loved by landlords – and, without ordinary people living in fear of it, the Capitalist system simply wouldn’t function as the ruling elite want it to: increasingly in their favour.
This Capitalist ideology is also why the welfare system is made so inhospitable towards claimants, and also why it’s now so hard to get a Council House.
Capitalist politicians tell us that the welfare system is only made hard to access in order to combat fraud, and that getting a Council House is only hard because the system is overwhelmed with demand – but these are simply lies and misdirection.
If it was about fraud, the government would surely be far more concerned with tax avoidance and evasion, which is estimated to cost the taxpayer around ten times as much as benefit fraud each year.
And if people can’t access Social Housing because there is apparently too much demand, then the government could just build more Social Housing – not just blame it on immigrants or there being too many poor people?
The fact is that the UK welfare system is made intentionally difficult to access because pro-Capitalist politicians don’t really want people to access it.
Capitalists want people to be forced to work to make ends meet because it enables a constant supply of cheap labour for bosses, and it ensures that wealth and power stays firmly in the hands of their fellow Capitalists rather than ordinary people.
Homelessness has been used as a weapon by Capitalists for centuries. But, just because the voting public know it’s a bad thing and want it to be solved, it doesn’t mean that politicians do too – no matter what they promise us at election time.