House the many not the few

The dramatic rise in homelessness under the Tories is a national scandal, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.

ACCORDING to the government’s spending watchdog — the National Audit Office (NAO) — homelessness is up by a staggering 134 per cent since the Tories gained power in 2010.

The figures also show that rough sleeping more than doubled since 2010.

The number of households in temporary accommodation rose by 60 per cent, now affecting 73 per cent more youngsters than in March 2011.

This rise in homelessness is visible in London and everywhere you go in the country — a tangible representation of everything that is wrong about Tory Britain where the interests of the 1 per cent will always rule supreme, whatever the consequences.

As Labour’s shadow secretary of state for housing John Healey said: “When this government fails, rising homelessness will be on its political tombstone.”

In response to the shocking figures, analysts and commentators particularly pointed to the effect of the government’s vicious welfare cuts and spiralling high rents, the latter caused in part due to the government’s abject failure to tackle the housing crisis.

According to the NAO report, the spike in homelessness was mainly caused by the ending of private-sector tenancies, but the government’s local housing allowance reforms are also “an element of the increase in homelessness.”

The NAO says that the government has proceeded with a “light-touch” approach to tackling the crisis.

As The Guardian commented: “It is shocking that ministers were not curious about the effects of their policies and did not commission full impact assessments.”

To put it simply, it’s no surprise that a mixture of high rents and welfare cuts put people out on the streets, and it’s no surprise that the callous Tories have done so little about it.

Neither do they offer solutions for going forward — without homes you can’t help the homeless and Tory policies have driven new affordable housebuilding to a 24-year low.

With a deeper cost-of-living crisis approaching fast, homelessness is likely to get even worse in the years ahead if the Tories stay in No 10.

The charity Crisis recently warned that homelessness would rise 76 per cent over the next decade.

Its August report showed that at any one point last year an estimated 236,000 people were experiencing a form of homelessness in Britain, including 50,000 children.

It further forecast that without action, the most acute forms of homelessness are likely to keep climbing, with overall numbers forecast to rise by more than a quarter (26.5 per cent) over the next 10 years to 202,200 in 2026. This appalling rise is the cutting edge of the housing crisis.

Since Margaret Thatcher stopped building council homes for rent, house prices have soared beyond the means of many and our children and grandchildren are forced to rent homes that cost more than half their take-home pay. Figures for 2016 showed 1.24 million households on council waiting lists in England alone.

Until Thatcher’s election, Britain built on average 200,000 council homes a year.

Apart from a few high-rise disasters, these estates provided good homes for a mixture of working and middle-class families.

The ban on building and the sale of council housing have resulted in these estates no longer having balanced communities and only the poorest families have a chance of becoming council tenants.

Here in London, vast swathes of the capital are seeing families who have lived here for generations being forced to leave the city in a devastating tide of social cleansing.

It’s important to understand that for ideological reasons the Tories are both against greater public-sector building and see negatively planning policies that “interfere” in the market.

It was therefore no surprise when in 2008 my successor at London City Hall, Boris Johnson, abolished the 50 per cent target for affordable housing that I had introduced as Labour mayor.

As Labour Party conference put it last year, Tory housing policy “is an exercise in social cleansing, gerrymandering and a threat to all except landlords and developers making money from the housing crisis.”

Therefore a radical change of approach in terms of housing policy could not be more needed.

As part of the general election campaign, Labour pledged that in government it would build a million new homes in five years, with at least half a million council homes.

It would be accompanied by the creation of a new housing ministry which could really get to grips with tackling the housing crisis, including tackling the scourge of homelessness.

Such an approach would not only start to tackle the housing crisis — it would also boost economic growth as part of Labour’s commitment to invest in a better future.

The government should be ashamed that it has overseen this increase in homelessness — it is another damning indictment of its failing, ideologically driven austerity and another reason why the Tories need to go.

First published by the Morning Star.