The cold wind of the December nights bites into the skin and makes you grateful for the warm enclosure of your home. A chance for a hot bath or tea, to relax and unwind. It’s not a time you want to be outside much. But for an increasing number of Britain’s population, life is now being spent in the cold winter nights on the streets.
According to the charity Shelter at least 320,000 in the country are homeless. This includes rough sleepers and those in temporary accommodations. This, they warned, was a conservative estimate that did not take into account those who hid their homelessness. This was a year on year increase of 13,000 while an increasing number of the homeless were reporting shocking violence inflicted on them. It has indicated one thing one thing: the moral and social fabrics of this country are increasingly frayed.
Homelessness is the unavoidable moral shame dogging our country that simply is not addressed enough. We are seeing an increasing number of the homeless around high streets and Tube stations, trudging bleakly through trains in hope of a stranger’s generosity. Shelter’s figures have put into context how bad this has become: Newham in East London is the leading hotspot for homelessness in England with at least one in every twenty four people in housing insecurity. In the borough more than 14,500 were in temporary accommodation.
The numbers remain depressing across the capital with 170,000 people being homeless. And it’s not just the poor boroughs either. The likes of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea have endured a spike in homelessness. This insecurity however is contagious, not confined simply to the capital but across the rest of the country.
Homelessness has been rising consecutively since the Coalition government came into power, which is the reason Conservative Party are reluctant to discuss this too much. But there are clear reasons for it, linked to the rise in number of working families resorting to food banks too. It comes from a combination of welfare cuts and high rents, pushing families into greater desperation and insecurity. Without a sufficient level of social housing, more power has tilted towards landlords in the private sector. Likewise in the workplace, the state has essentially chosen capital over labour, preferring to subsidise poverty of its population imposed by employers unwilling to pay the living wage.
Shelter’s analysis of homelessness had unearthed three years of spikes. In 2016 it had estimated that there were 294,000 homeless people in Britain. By 2017 this had risen to 307,000. Their chief executive Polly Neate described this as due to the “perfect storm of spiralling rents, welfare cuts and a total lack of social housing.” But it also indicates the severity of the damage inflicted by the austerity programme.
Figures indicated that nearly four million UK adults had resorted to food banks due to being unable to afford food. The state of Britain’s poverty makes it easy to understand why homelessness is rising. There is a staggering insecurity in the labour market, a loss of control (which no doubt partially fed the Leave vote) which the state has not addressed. Instead it has allowed millions of families to labour through incredible stress and economic anxiety. The fear of being unable to keep a roof over your head or feed your children. This is Britain’s poverty today.
And nor can anyone link this to a poor work ethic. Majority of the country’s impoverished are in work. This poverty begins in the workplace and a negligence on the state to confront employers and landlords. It is a government that does not look at workers or tenants as deserving of dignity and security.
When you relentlessly slash the welfare system without taking adequate steps to ensure the free market doesn’t behave domineeringly towards those without much capital, you will always create the risk of high levels of homelessness and food poverty.
And this Britain today. One of the wealthiest countries in the world with millions of families too poor to feed themselves even as they work, and thousands without the safety of a guaranteed roof over their heads.
Christmas is the time that usually evokes neighbourly instincts of kindness, compassion and generosity. There are too many in Britain right now who need that from our politicians.