The Crisis Of Homelessness In Austerity Britain

Last week, amidst the ongoing activity and debates surrounding Brexit in parliament, a homeless man named Gyula Remes was found collapsed just yards from a Parliamentary entrance. Despite receiving medical attention, Remes later died in hospital. Given the accounts from a friend, Remes is said to have recently got a new job as a chef’s assistant, and was elated at the prospect of no longer having to sleep rough. Remes’ death has caused public and political outrage, given the location of his death outside parliament. This death brought down to earth the state of politics within the UK, exposing the fact that this harsh reality for many people in the UK is frequently ignored, both literally and politically.

Reacting to the death of Remes, Labour MP David Lammy said “there is something rotten in Westminster when MPs walk past dying homeless people on the way into work. Twenty-four thousand people homeless on our streets this Christmas and our government playing reckless with a no-deal Brexit”. Greg Beales, campaign director at Shelter echoes these sentiments, noting that “our crippling shortage of social housing and a threadbare safety net are at the root of this national emergency and we call on government to make this year a turning point in the fight to ensure that there is a safe home for all those who need it”.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire believes that the rise in homelessness since the Conservatives took power is not the Conservative’s fault, and is due to social issues like drinking and drugs. However, many critics of the government have said that austerity policies and the housing cap have led to the year-on-year increase over the time that the Conservatives have been in government. Not only this, but the Office for National Statistics has shown a 24% increase in the deaths of the homeless, over the past five years.

Expert analysis has also outlined where Brokenshire’s assessment falls short. For example, a UN human rights expert published a report in November which blamed the austerity policies of the Conservative government for UK’s homeless crisis. Chief executive of homeless charity crisis, Jon Sparkes, had called on the government to examine and address the root causes of homelessness, saying that the government must focus on “building the number of social homes we need and making sure our welfare system is there to support people when they fall on hard times”. Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St Mungo’s also criticises the cuts to funding to vital services that people need, such as the NHS and local authorities.

The issue of homeless has been thrust into the spotlight after Remes’ death. It highlights the lack of support and care given by the government regarding the issue of homelessness within society as a whole. CNN International reports that 1 in every 103 children in the UK will be homeless this Christmas, which is a rise of 59% from five years ago. Anne Baxendale, director of communications, policy and campaigns at housing charity Shelter, has noted that “many of the families that come to Shelter for advice say the benefit cap is pushing them into homelessness”.

The overwhelming experience of individuals, families and the charities that help them, expose the harsh reality of government policy and the impact it has had upon the homeless crisis in the UK. This should be treated as a crisis, rather than the fault of the individuals in these dire situations. However, the government is not listening. The Local Government Association has said that tackling the crisis is becoming increasingly difficult as homelessness services are facing a funding shortfall of £100m next year. If the government continues to ignore the root causes of the issue, it will only escalate the symptoms of homelessness.