There is no place like Homelessness..

"There is no place like Homelessness" is a very real challenge being faced by many people. Homelessness is quickly becoming one of the biggest social issues of the 21st Century. It is not a problem reserved for refugees, and is rather closer than we realise to normal families as the economic struggle captures more people and employment remuneration stagnates.

Homelessness GIF by Inspired By Elle

Which people make up the Homeless?

Well, the answer lies with the fact that "the homeless" is a changing category of people. It is no longer the conventional perception of a homeless individual. There is no a typical homeless person, which in itself is a worrying signal that there are deep-rooted issues in our society. Whole families are now experiencing homelessness, which is a concern as social mobility from a position of hardship, is a massive feet in our society.

Walking the streets in some cosmopolitan city centres, you quickly realise, the people that are homeless come from everyday backgrounds, and not just those inferred by the typical viewpoint. Personally, I was astounded by the number of homeless young people, particularly girls who are exposed to the dangers of exploitation in the sex trade.

Why is Homelessness increasing?

Well, it has to be said that changes in the economy resulting in cuts is having a huge impact, but moreover the welfare system is failing as attitudes are changing. The last point may seem controversial, however "care' is a huge issue in terms of why homelessness is increasing.

Do we have a Welfare State?

Perhaps many of us will not really appreciate this term, as it has been eroded away for many years. The principle of the welfare state is one of essentially not leaving anyone behind through the introduction of a state scheme which protects the health and social wellbeing of its citizens by having schemes providing assistance in health, grants and awards at times of need. This system was introduced in the United Kingdom by William Beveridge in his report of 1942. Ultimately, the aim was to prevent poverty and this being a barrier to accessing services, like health, education, employment, housing and so on.

However, governments have systematically cut these services over the years. They argue that these cuts were essentially for the economy to cope; however there are growing concerns that these services have been 'soft targets' for cuts. Honestly, it is difficult to not question this, when we see wide scale tax avoidance in the Panama Papers and the Jersey Files, as well as large corporations actively being allowed to dodge their tax liabilities. Clearly, this will affect the funding available to the government to finance a Welfare State.

It is suspected that further parts of the National Health Service are in line for privatisation in the future. This measure is one which would strike hard, for the people who need healthcare most. Ownership within the public domain naturally infers that the motivation will be toward the people who need the services the most. However, in truth many hospitals have been 'privatised' many years ago. Examples include privately funding large scale expansion projects, where the National Health Service was then tied to long-term, expensive leasing projects. Most of these weighted contracts will have burdened the National Health Service for many years to come.

Of course, the Welfare State is not limited to the Health Service, however across the board there has been unrelenting cuts, where education has become linked to social status, the poorest face disproportionate taxes along with struggles to access to services and the care for the most vulnerable is no longer a priority.

There are more cuts to public services expected, especially with the recent vote to leave the European Union. It is highly likely that the Welfare State will be in the line of fire once again.

Is having a Home a Human Right?

We can use the European Convention on Human Rights as a guidance, as to whether having a home is a human right. 

  • Freedom from Degrading or Inhumane Treatment (Article 3 - high test);
  • Right to a Private Family Life (Article 8);
  • Right to Life (Article 2 - positive duty to prevent foreseeable loss of life);
  • Freedom from Servitude or Slavery (Article 4 - zero hour contracts?);
  • Right to Liberty and Security of the Person (Article 5)
  • Discrimination (Article 14)

Clearly, it requires money to defend your rights so even where many of these points are arguable if linked to a cause of action, the homeless are ill-equipped to defend their rights. 

Tough Times hit those who struggle most

Society is based around certain conventions, which if you fail to tick the boxes, sadly you experience many problems. I will list some examples which may not be immediately visible to the naked eyes: -

1. The access to State Benefits and key services is electronic. This means that if you are not computer literate you are going to struggle, plus you need equipment like a computer/printer/scanner to access mainstream services; a phone with credit for interviews especially as jobs are becoming scarce.

2. Homeless people are often alone or isolated, with no one to cover their back, which in the modern age means they are going to struggle. Even considering point 1, if they require close friends or family who will allow use of their address for benefits, thus enabling them to say open a bank account, obtain a passport. These documents are now becoming key for proof of identity in the modern age where citizenship is not immediately accepted;

3. An average rent in the South of England for a 2-bedroomed flat could be around£200.00 per week. This figure increases the closer you get to towns and cities, especially London and commercial areas. Social cleansing begins to occur where the system will not subsidise those struggling with increased costs or social mobility becomes remote to those climbing the ladder. 

4. Homeless people who receive help from their local authority in the form of accommodation, are often placed in bed and breakfast accommodation or are placed in areas sometimes at the other end of the country. This can cause other social issues with children not being able to attend school in their original location, thus more problems arise and ultimately more state involvement in their affairs. This can also remove the support of extended family and friends who cannot bridge the distance. The assumption being that help is help, no matter where is comes from; but in truth it does matter.

5. Often people living on the streets, fall foul to other problems like alcoholism and drugs. It is easy to dismiss and not show empathy, however it is not so easy to travel in the shoes of others. Sadly, these influences and many others, do come with the territory.

6. Geography can play a part in the struggle as jobs tend to be more scarce in areas where most of the jobs are lower paid service sector roles.

7. Taxes like the 'Bedroom Tax' penalise the low paid, where they have multiple bedrooms. This tax is levied on rented accommodation only, with an extra £20.00 per week being demanded for 'bedrooms' deemed empty. This may seem reasonable, until you consider the dream homes with multiple bedrooms left empty. However this tax works against families in rented accommodation with young children of same or different sexes under a certain age. The law assumes those children can share, and will deem a bedroom empty in many cases, where the children have their own bedroom.

8. Certain groups like single mothers are adversely affected by benefit caps. The law works that benefits are capped for a certain number of children and removed from housing assistance. 

Impact on Families

Homelessness can impact families tremendously, especially where accommodation is found in distant or remote areas. Communication can be difficult due to costs and simply remoteness. 

Families can also be affected in that each homeless person is someone's son, brother, sister, child, cousin, colleague and so on. We all have connections to others, homelessness can cause turmoil and worry to families when contact is lost with loved ones.

The Future

We must collectively address homelessness as it is a social issue which is sadly here to stay for many years as economies struggle, people are displaced, and the makeup of society changes. A home is the place where all life begins and ends, plus in between we nurture and develop all who dwell therein. It is important that everyone has the shelter and pride of a home, to ensure that generations to come are balanced human beings!

Please take the time to appreciate the sentiments of my poem called 'Any Change', which was inspired by homelessness. 

By Elle Smith


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