THE REPORT by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, ‘Bleak houses: Tackling the crisis of family homelessness in England’, reveals the ‘terrible reality’ of how some children are living in converted shipping containers, office blocks and B&Bs, in cramped conditions, often miles away from their schools.
The report shows that while official statistics show 124,000 children in England living in temporary accommodation, this does not include the hidden homeless who are ‘sofa-surfing’, often in very cramped conditions.
The new analysis conducted for the Children’s Commissioner for England estimates that in 2016/17 there were 92,000 children living in sofa-surfing families.
The Children’s Commissioner is also warning that official figures fail to capture a small but highly vulnerable group of homeless children who have been placed in temporary accommodation by children’s services rather than by the council’s housing department.
This includes families who have been deemed to have made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’, and those with no recourse to public funds as a result of their immigration status.
Further analysis conducted for the Children’s Commissioner has found that an estimated 375,000 children are in households that have fallen behind on their rent or mortgage payments, putting them at financial risk of becoming homeless in the future. There is no publicly available data on how many families are being housed in this way.
A more recent development has been the conversion of former office blocks and warehouses into temporary accommodation under permitted development rights which bypass planning regulations and restrict the ability of local councils to object on the grounds of the quality of the accommodation.
Some areas have become hotspots for conversions, in particular Harlow, where more than half of all new homes being created are office block conversions. At least 13 office blocks have been converted, resulting in more than 1,000 individual flats. Many of the flats are small, single studios which do not come close to meeting national space standards.
At the same time as families are being forced to live in subhuman conditions, the teaching unions daily reveal that teachers are having to bring clothing into schools for children whose needs are desperate, and schools have to provide breakfasts and dinners for pupils whose families cannot afford to feed them.
The reality is that wages have been savagely cut since the 2008 crash and most families are struggling to keep their heads above the water – meanwhile the rich are getting very much richer!
The Tories from Thatcher onwards, with her privatisation of council housing, have organised a situation where the homeless sleep on the streets, and beggars go up and down trains and buses for small change to buy food and perhaps buy a place to sleep for the night.
The Welfare State brought in by the 1945 Labour government is being destroyed. Council housing was available for all at affordable rents – now society is being driven backwards while the profiteers get richer!
Thatcher and the Tories destroyed council housing in favour of a ‘property-owning democracy’ – where a few profiteers own all of the property and where young people are faced with paying huge commissions to landlords to have access to a room.
At the same time, there are massive developments taking place in central London, and other cities, where skyscrapers are going up filled with luxury housing owned by the rich and kept empty as an ‘investment’, while outside the new blocks people are sleeping on the streets.
The UK is being turned back to the times of Charles Dickens by the vicious capitalist class and its political representatives that own and control the country.
There is only one way out of this crisis. The trade unions must organise Councils of Action in every city to occupy all empty properties to house the homeless and their families.
The TUC Congress meeting in September cannot look the other way as far as homelessness, sky high rents and the development of the low wage economy is concerned.
The TUC must stand up for working people. It must call a general strike to bring down the Tories, and bring in a workers government and socialism. This will nationalise the banks and the major industries and destroy the ruling class, that has got richer and richer out of thrusting millions into poverty and degradation.
A workers government will take over all empty properties to house the homeless and organise to build millions of council homes to house the working class at rents it can afford.
The UK has to be a workers’ state, not a land where people look back to the good old days when people had homes and didn’t sleep in the streets or ex-warehouses.
It is crisis-ridden capitalism that has caused the crisis and now it must be got rid of and replaced with socialism.
Make sure you join the YS lobby of the TUC to force it to take action – Forward to the British socialist revolution!