Today, I read an article in the Big Issue which gave the new Tory housing minister lots of space to go on about their plans to slash the housing budget, whilst still being “concerned” about the vulnerable in society.
This prompted me to fire off the following angry letter:
I was dismayed by the article “The State of Things to Come” (Big Issue no.908) which presented the coalition government’s policies on homelessness.
The Tory / Lib Dem coalition is freezing housing benefit. Shelter claims that in many cases, people will lose 40% of their rent. In some local authority areas in London, there are no private rents available for less than the cap on housing benefit. This will ghettoise social housing and force thousands of people on to the streets. Nowhere was this mentioned in the article.
Instead, the Big Issue gave space to Grant Shapps, the new housing minister, who talked about a “personalised service” to the homeless, and more choice in the way that help is offered – i.e. the coalition plan for individual budgets, which is basically a carte blanche for private companies to profit from homelessness and to soak up public funding in doing so. Why was this not challenged? The state has a responsibility to house the vulnerable and the homeless and the Lib Dems/Tories are going back on this fundamental principle, in effect washing their hands of the problem.
At least the government seems to be facing up to the high numbers of homeless people and the under-reporting of the problem under Labour. However, the article fails to point out the root cause of homelessness, caused by Thatcher in the 1980s, of the Right to Buy scheme which has decimated council housing and caused private rental costs to soar, the appalling lack of investment in council house building by all the mainstream parties, the 4.5m people on waiting lists for council housing and 2.6m people living in overcrowded conditions.
The government’s “solution”? Reliance on the voluntary sector and privatisation. It is nonsensical to assume that the voluntary sector can somehow step in to fill the gap. People already have to work long hours just to make ends meet – are they to be expected to follow this up with a stint at a local homeless shelter at the weekend? Shapps says that the housing budget has to be cut because we cannot afford it. Yet, after 1945, when the country was in deeper debt than it is at present, hundreds of thousands of council homes were built.
Publications like The Big Issue need to expose the right wing lie that we cannot afford public services, not allow spin doctors like Grant Shapps to promote a society where our right to social housing is being snatched away. I would like to see an article in the paper, which gave one of the smaller parties, like the Socialist Party, put its case for social housing which would solve the problem of homelessness once and for all. After all, as Militant Labour, by leading a mass struggle against Tory cuts, it secured funding to build 5,000 council houses in Liverpool. The involvement of the private sector leads to housing to be seen as a way to make money rather than an essential human right.