There\’s homelessness and homelessness

In the 120-page study, co-authored by academics at the University of York and Heriot-Watt University, Crisis highlights figures released over the summer that show councils have reported 44,160 people accepted as homeless and placed in social housing, an increase of 10% on the previous year and the first increase in almost a decade.

Last year another 189,000 people were also placed in temporary accommodation – such as small hotels and B&Bs – to prevent them from becoming homeless, an increase of 14% on the previous year.

There\’s two directly contradictory ways of reading these numbers.

1) My word, homelessness is a really serious problem, we\’d better spend lots more money on it.

2) My word, aren\’t we doing well in dealing with homelessness?

Here\’s what most would think of as true homelessness:

In London, rough sleeping, the most visible form of homelessness, rose by 8% last year. Strikingly, more than half of the capital\’s 3,600 rough sleepers are now not British citizens: most are migrants from eastern Europe who cannot find work and, unable to get benefits or return home, are left to fend for themselves on the streets.

That\’s not, by the way, the number sleeping rough on any one night. That\’s the annual total:

3975 people slept rough at some point in London during 2010/11, an increase of 8 per cent on the previous year\’s total of 3673 and of more than a thousand since 2005/06.

Note that I\’m using the numbers that Crisis themselves report, as with the original news piece.

So, we\’ve some 225,000 people who were at risk of becoming what we would all agree is truly homeless over the year and all of those bar some few thousand (half of whom are not citizens and thus not eligible for help) are helped by the system to avoid this true homelessness.

Yes, I\’m sure we could make this system better but perhaps the first point to be made is how well the system is in fact dealing with matters. A 1% failure rate is truly miraculous for anything government run after all.

And as anyone who has ever even looked into those rough sleeping numbers knows, absent booze, drugs and mental illness there would be hardly any of that at all.

The charity says that the government needs to reverse cuts to housing benefit and invest urgently in new housing.

No, this does not follow. What does follow is that if swathes of the population cannot afford housing then the government should be trying to make housing cheaper. Making housing cheaper does not necessarily mean spending more money on housing: it implies making housing cheaper.

Which is simple enough to do, the government could just stop doing some of the things that it is already doing. Like liberalise the planning system. The right to build on a specific plot of land is the most expensive part of a house in the south after all. Reduce that cost and you\’ll reduce the cost of housing.

6 thoughts on “There\’s homelessness and homelessness”

  1. …and stop interfering in the building of housing to demand “social” housing quotas, which is a form of “feed the communist wolf” approach that the building trade accept.

    If the builders make 100,000 units with no social housing, then 100,000 households move into these places and so out of other places, freeing them up for…drum roll…

    The social housing quota mess persists the appalling situation where someone has to go begging, cap in hand, to the State and “apply to move” or join one massive list that is constantly being jumped by special cases not under the discretion of those paying for it (the taxpayer)*.

    We would do the poor many favours by ending State ownership/subsidy/operation of housing and shifting to basic Housing Benefit, which would also sort most cases of the now rich sitting in subsidised Council properties “for life” cough Bob Crow cough.

    With bare HB linked to income, trade-offs on size, condition and location can be made just like any other human being has to.

    * and no, I do not accept any wibbulant (or is it wibbular?) notions of collectivist “consent” via the ballot box.

  2. Only a few days ago, the construction special interest groups made their position clear. They won’t build any houses until their price is met. In a free market, a house would be sold at the market price. At the moment, the market price is low, so house prices should be dropping. This is happening for housing already built, but the constructors would rather sit on land banks and throw building workers out of a job than build housing at a reduced price, which would supply the market but make less of a profit. Constructors have done this before throughout the last Century and unless their bluff is called by the government they will continue to hold the population to ransom.

  3. @ Grumpy Old Man
    If the constructors can make a profit from building houses they will do so; if by building houses they make losses that are less than the redundancy payments they have to make by sacking workers, they will do so; if the cost of building a house is exceeds the price that anyone is willing and able to pay for it by more than the cost of sacking the building workers, you are demanding that the Official Receiver takes over the role of housebuilder.

  4. As a home-owner with no mortgage, I can ignore allegations of bias when I say that house prices are far too high and reducing rents and house prices relative to median (*not* average) incomes must be a moral and economic priority.
    I have been inundated with pamphlets from letting agents showing how much profit I should receive if rents rose at 10% per annum and they had a 10% vacancy rate: WTF if there is such a shortage that rents rise more than twice as fast as inflation why do they have a 10% vacancy rate? The rent demanded by agents must be far in excess of market clearing rents.
    If there was a surplus of housing, rents would be set at a level that tenants could afford and houses would only be built if the interest paid was less than the market rent.

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