20
Feb
12

Homelessness – The shadows grow longer under this Government. A guest post from Richard Brooks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hubert Humphrey, the ‘Happy Warrior’ who championed liberal causes across a vast swathe of the 20th century, once said that “The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”

It would now be appropriate to list, in descending order, alphabetically and in a pavlovian manner, all the things which I believe this Coalition government is doing to increase poverty, inequality and suffering in Britain, today. Needless to say, I don’t have that sort of time – no one does – so instead I will focus on something particularly close to my heart, and an issue that Hull University Labour Club have been working on recently.

Homelessness is an issue that is so big, and so permanent, that it is hard not to be overwhelmed by it. It casts a shadow as large as the sun’s over our prosperous society, so people choose to stay inside. But you can’t hide forever, you have things to do, a life. When you do venture outside, there the shadow is; huddled in the shop doorway, hiding from the cold in cafe or walking past you in the street. This is homelessness in the United Kingdom, in 2012, shamefully invisible. How do you destroy something that you can not see?

One of the main problems with tackling homelessness, is that there is a severe dearth of information about it in general knowledge; much of it self imposed. It is our society’s hidden shame. Crisis, the U.K’s leading charity for single homeless people, estimate that there are around 400,000 hidden homeless people at any one given time in the United Kingdom, right now. How can such a large number of people, so obviously in desperate need of society’s help, escape our attention? Another huge problem is defining who exactly needs that help.

It’s a simple problem, but a serious one. What homelessness ‘is’ has different connotations, depending on who you ask. Shelter define Homelessness as ‘not having a home – most people who are homeless don’t sleep on the street. Even if you have a roof over your head you can still be homeless. This is because you may not have any rights to stay where you live or your home might be unsuitable for you due to severe overcrowding or other reasons.” This is not how most of the population define ‘being homeless’.

Even if the extent of the problem is acknowledged, the homeless community are stigmatised and prejudiced against in wider society. They are often labelled as drug using layabouts, who bring their problems upon themselves. These wild accusations are neither true, nor fair. The idea that the homeless population are a sub-set of society, different to me or you, is a fantasy at best, and at worst, something far more sinister. A recent survey showed that 1 in 4 people have a serious fear of losing their home. Millions of people are genuinely afraid of being forced out of their homes. This is no way to live.

Due to the shocking nature of these statistics, the sheer scale in number of those affected, it would be foolish to not assume that a government priority would be to tackle this shameful situation. Consider yourself a fellow fool, as this Government’s current actions seem to be indicating the exact opposite.

The fact of the matter is, that this Tory-Led Coalition are assailing the most vulnerable in society, in a three- pronged attack unseen since the British invasion of Canada in 1760.

Firstly, they choke off any form of economic growth with their deficit reduction plan which results in a huge rise in unemployment, especially for the young. This means that far more people have to rely on the the benefit system, which is then promptly ‘reformed’ so that the only safety net for many people is taken away. If the worst should happen, and people do find themselves in abject poverty or even homeless, their rights are threatened – through measures such as the criminalisation of squatting – or the services designed to help them are no longer operating, due to withdrawal in funding. These actions are morally reprehensible and shows an almost herculean level of callousness.

To you, I say this – this Conservative led Government has failed this test of morality disastrously, for the ill of millions of people across the United Kingdom. Homelessness – in all its forms – is unacceptable in the 21st Century, especially in a country as prosperous and developed as the United Kingdom. But this government’s policies are making the situation worse, not better.

The real deficit here – is not of one of government expenditure, but one of a lack of common human decency, and respect for our fellow man.  I too, long for the day, when the books are balanced.

Richard Brooks is a nineteen year old politics student and has been an active campaigner for several years. He is the Campaigns Officer for Hull University Labour, leading their HomeLESS campaign. He enjoys Being Human, lasagne & Escalators. 

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