Homelessness has always had two causes: A lack of homes and people not being able to afford to live in any available homes. That is it. These two factors have been the causes of homelessness throughout civilisation and in countries with a wide variety of political structures. Equally, a sufficient number of homes and sufficient income for everyone have always been the two respective solutions. That is, the means to end homelessness are clear and the only obstacle is the lack of will to do it.
Since 2010, eight years of Tory rule have created a huge increase in homelessness.
Lack of homes
The Tories have been vehemently opposed to any new council house building and they have ensured that all new private property developments have been able to dodge their legal commitments to “affordable” housing even when said developers had received tax breaks that were described as incentives to build such housing. Meanwhile, particularly in London, many luxury apartment blocks have been built that lie empty; they have been “bought” by foreign investors, often as a tax dodge or as aid to money laundering.
Lack of money to live anywhere
Under the Tories, there has been an exponential increase in the number of people who cannot afford even the cheapest accommodation. The direct causes of this are huge increases in zero-hours and sub-minimum wage jobs and vicious welfare cuts including bedroom tax, illegal benefit sanctions and restrictions on total welfare paid regardless of family size. All these factors are deliberate consequences of Tory policy.
Tory policies have created the increase in homelessness. It will continue to increase because there are to be further cuts to welfare this year and the Tories have no plans to address exploitative employers or to address the abject lack of homes.
However, the Tories have invented a minister for homelessness. MP Heather Wheeler has been assigned the role. At a visit to a housing project last weekend she answered some questions from the media about homelessness. All quotes by Wheeler below – in italics – are from Wheeler on homelessness.
She was asked about the causes of rough sleeping:
“In truth, I don’t know. That’s one of the interesting things for me to find out over the last eight weeks that I’ve been doing the job.”
The dishonesty of her comment is matched by the deliberate air of detachment. Wheeler knows that Tory policies are the causes of rough sleeping. Clearly, her claim that she intends “to find out” the causes is Tory-speak for saying she intends to spend a long time inventing false causes in order to absolve the Tories of guilt and to create a narrative to suggest the problem cannot be solved easily.
Wheeler responded to a question about the drop in rough sleeping in Scotland with waffle:
“I think that maybe England is a tad more cautious in that we are very keen that we have proper pilots and we assess it.”
Or, homelessness in Scotland is addressed by an SNP government, whereas England suffers a Tory government.
Wheeler offered surprise that there is little available social housing in England:
“I find it fascinating that there is no private-sector rental used at all to place people up here [in Scotland] – it’s all local authority and housing association, because you have supply.”
“Fascinating?” A Tory MP was fascinated that there is an abject shortage of council houses in England. Tory councils have refused to build council homes, other councils have been unable to build council homes due to central funding cuts by the Tory government and councils have been forced by the Tories to sell off council property, but a Tory MP was fascinated that there is a shortage. No, Wheeler was not fascinated by these facts; she was fully aware of them. Her expression of fascination was bad acting and revealed that she intends to operate with bad faith.
When asked if anyone during her visit to the housing project had raised the issue of welfare cuts leading to homelessness Wheeler replied:
“I didn’t hear that, which is refreshing.”
So, we move from “fascinating” to “refreshing.” Wheeler was aware that welfare cuts are the largest cause of homelessness and she was aware that the architects of the cuts knew that homelessness would increase greatly because of the cuts. She didn’t need to hear someone say it at a meeting at a housing project for it to be true – she knew it was true. Her response above made clear that the main cause of homelessness – Tory cuts to benefits – will be ignored. The Tories intend to plough on inhumanely with more devastating attacks on the poorest people that they know will lead to more homelessness and death and Wheeler has no intention of acknowledging that. Her simple use of the word “refreshing” showed that she is determined to stifle any recognition of the main cause of the desperate situation that more and more people encounter.
Wheeler said she was confident that the Tories would achieve a manifesto commitment of halving rough sleeping by 2022, and eradicating it by 2027:
“We’re [the Tories] going to move heaven and earth to get that done.”
Housing all the people who are currently sleeping rough would take a few days if the government had the will to do so. Preventing rough sleeping in the future would require policies on housing, welfare and wages that are diametric opposites of what the Tories have been doing and intend to continue doing. The number of rough sleepers will continue to rise because of Tory policy. Wheeler knows all that and she knows that the said manifesto commitment, like every word in the 2017 manifesto, is a con.
The Tory minister concluded with a repetition of a Tory lie:
“This is about supply. If you don’t sort out supply of affordable housing, there’s another million people living in our lovely country, we need to have greater supply of affordable housing. We are spending £9bn on affordable housing [by March 2021] because we recognise that’s what we have to do.”
The Tories have made similar claims to the above many times and every time it has been a blatant lie.
Minister For Distraction
The role of the Minister For Homelessness is not to tackle homelessness. The role is to distract the public from the causes of homelessness.