Rough sleeping is up by a third since 2009
Food, shelter and freedom from crushing debt should be the basic ingredients of a decent life in one the world’s wealthiest, advanced countries – the UK has a collective wealth of £11.1tr. The lack of these basics is a feature of Tory Britain in 2015 and is felt more keenly at this time of year by those on the lowest incomes.
Charity the Trussell Trust reports that more than one million households used its 425 food banks during 2014/15 – a 26-fold increase from the 41,000 in 2009/10. Increased reliance upon food banks has been precipitated by austerity and welfare cuts, and the chaos surrounding the introduction of Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘flagship’ Universal Credit scheme.
As Helen Lewis comments in the New Statesman:
‘Five years ago, food banks were almost unknown, but more than a million Britons used them in the year to April. Inconveniently for Iain Duncan Smith’s self-image as the Messiah, the Trussell Trust told the Commons work and pensions select committee recently that one in four of its clients had to resort to using a food bank because of benefit delays.’
Muddles around the implementation of UC have precipitated a rent arrears crisis for the majority of council tenant claimants. According to a survey published by the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) and the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH), 9 in 10 council tenants moved onto UC have now slipped into rent arrears.
The six week UC assessment period, combined with the initial seven day waiting period, is seriously affecting council tenants’ ability to maintain rent payments, which is the main reason for growing arrears, the survey reveals.
Escalating rent arrears are the tip of a worsening debt iceberg that could yet puncture recent improvements in the UK economy. The Office of Budget Responsibility, the government financial watchdog, predicts that households will take on £40bn of extra debt next year. Indeed, the chancellor’s economic growth targets and debt reduction strategy are predicated on higher household debt to fuel growth.
Household borrowing in 2016 is set to approach levels last seen in the run-up to the financial crash in 2008, sparking fears that the UK is repeating economic policy mistakes of the past with economic prosperity over-reliant upon debt and asset bubbles rather than investment and improving productivity.
But perhaps the most visible indication that we are not ‘all in this together’ as the chancellor constantly claims, is the inexorable rise in homelessness. For many this Christmas, there is ‘no room at the inn’.
Statutory homelessness is 23 per cent higher this year than in 2009 with around 50,000 households accepted as homeless by local councils across England. Rough sleeping is up by about one third over the same period. And Department of Communities and Local Government figures reveal that there are more than 3,000 families with children living in temporary housing, such as low grade, but expensive for the taxpayer, bed and breakfast hotels.
It is unclear how, in such a wealthy country, a lack of food, shelter and a growing debt burden can be justified by the government in order that more and more wealth can accumulate at the top. Merry Christmas.
Kevin Gulliver is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward and a director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute and chair of the Centre for Community Research. He writes in a personal capacity
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