This week, in thousands of schools, nurseries and churches, the Christmas story will be being re-told. Parents will be enthralled as they watch the re-enactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for a bed. So, it is timely to reflect on the search for a bed in the UK today.
Back in 2008, David Cameron said "I think that it is simply a disgrace that in the fifth-biggest economy in the world that we have people homeless, people sleeping on the streets, sofa-surfers, people in hospitals."
I agreed then and agree now. Perhaps it was just an error on his part that he forgot to mention that, under the Labour governments, homelessness had fallen by 70% from the inheritance of the previous Conservative government. That hadn’t happened by chance. It happened because of a concerted effort between central and local government, through the introduction of the Supporting People programme.
But what has happened since David Cameron took control in 2010?
- Homelessness has risen relentlessly. Statutory homelessness, where families without a roof over their head are accepted by their local council as homeless, has risen by nearly a third since the general election.
- The number of people sleeping rough has risen by 31%. Even more worrying, the number of young people sleeping rough has increased by 66%.
- There are now more than 75,000 children living in temporary accommodation, and the use of bed and breakfast hotels has tripled since 2010. There has been a near 200% increase in the number of families in bed and breakfast accommodation for more than 6 weeks.
This isn’t surprising when you realise the scale of the government cuts. There are 1544 fewer bed spaces for the homeless compared to just 12 months ago, and 60% of these projects have already had significant funding cuts this year and expect more next year.
When this is taken together with the continuing reduction in new housing starts – which have fallen in each successive quarter since 2010 – and the 60% cut in the affordable housing budget, we shouldn’t be surprised by the impact. And it will get even worse next year, when the housing benefit changes are estimated to result in a further 40,000 households becoming homeless. Will we see headlines confirming that stables are to be used to provide emergency shelters?
None of this has happened by chance. It’s happened because David Cameron has chosen to do it.