THE NATIONAL Audit Office (NAO) has produced a new report which says that the true number of people sleeping on the streets ‘far exceeds’ Tory ‘estimates’.
In Autumn 2019, the government claimed that there were 4,266 people sleeping rough on any given night. At the time, homeless charity Shelter said the figure was greatly underestimated. Now the new figures show how right Shelter was.
During the first wave of the pandemic under the government’s ‘Everyone In’ scheme, homeless people were temporarily put up in hotels, B&Bs and hostels only to be dumped back on the streets as the first wave of the virus began to slow down.
According to the government, more than 33,000 people have been helped as part of the ‘Everyone In’ scheme. In doing so, the Tories have admitted the scale of homelessness in the UK. Now, as the cold weather comes in, homeless people are at risk of literally freezing to death.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released the figures for the number of homeless people who have died in 2019. The figures for 2020 are not yet available, but they are thought to be much higher. ONS figures estimated 778 homeless people died in 2019 across England and Wales – that was seven per cent up from the previous year, and the fifth yearly increase in a row.
Meanwhile, the Tory pledge that no one will be evicted during the pandemic has been exposed as a fraud. New legislation has been sneaked in. Anyone who has arrears during the pandemic can still face being evicted and thrown onto the streets.
On Friday, January 8th, the government extended a ban on bailiffs enforcing evictions in England until at least 21 February. But later, on the same day the ban extension was enacted, regulations were published which lower the arrears threshold from nine months to six. As of last Monday, if you owe six months rent from when the legislation came into effect, you face eviction during lockdown.
So the government message of ‘Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ is extremely cynical to say the least when tens of thousands are threatened with eviction. The message is obviously impossible to adhere to if you have no home to stay in!
To make matters worse, homeless children and their families are being left to languish in B&Bs. Under the Housing Act, it is unlawful for councils to keep homeless families with children in temporary accommodation for more than six weeks.
In just one example out of thousands, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has criticised Redbridge Council which left a family’s two children to share the same bed in a B&B for over a year, after accepting another borough’s decision to class their family as ‘intentionally homeless’.
Poor living conditions affected the children’s schoolwork and caused their mother to suffer increased anxiety, stress and panic attacks. While they were in the B&B, the council offered the family a studio flat where they would have had to sleep, eat and do homework in the same room. The alternative was to move to accommodation hundreds of miles away in the Midlands or the North.
The woman rejected these options, since her older child was due to take GCSE exams at a local school, and there is no support network outside London. As a result, the council decided it no longer had any duties to the family and declared the family ‘intentionally homeless’.
Another report from the London Mayor’s office, released yesterday, shows that London has lost 13,500 council homes since 2003. The Tory government has spent the last decade destroying the housing stock, demolishing entire estates to make way for private flats for the rich. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic has completely exposed that the heart of capitalism is rotten.
The government has created a situation where conditions that have not been seen since the Victorian era are coming back with a vengeance – mass homelessness, mass unemployment, starving children and masses dying from disease.
This system cannot take humanity an inch forward. In fact, it is driving society back. A system that will not even house its population must be overthrown.
There is only one way forward. The trade unions must now take action and bring this government down with a general strike to bring in a workers government that will build millions of new council homes to make homelessness a thing of the past.