A Parliamentary Question on homelessness today from Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh either caught the Prime Minister unbriefed or showed how totally complacent she is about the growing numbers of people being left without a home.
McDonagh’s question (view here) came from the Corbyn mould, being based on the experience of a constituent. She asked:
Last week, through no fault of her own, Amy and her young daughter became homeless. After months of looking for a flat, she finally went to Merton Council, who told her they could only offer temporary accommodation in Birmingham, 140 miles away from her job, from her daughter’s school, and from the friends and family that make it possible for her to be a working single mum. Can I ask the Prime minister, in one of the richest cities in the world, where Russian oligarchs and Chinese banks own scores of properties and leave them empty, how can it be right that a London-born, working family like Amy have not a room to live’.
And Theresa May replied
Well the issue obviously of housing in the London borough of Merton is one that the Honourable Lady and I worked on many years ago when we were on the Housing Committee together, and I recognise that she has raised a concern for her particular constituent. Obviously I won’t comment on the individual case, but what I will say is that what’s important is that overall the government is dealing with the issue of homelessness, we are ensuring that we are building more homes, we are giving more support to people to get into their own homes, but this is something that will take time as we ensure that those properties are available and as we ensure that we maintain the record that we have of providing housing support across all types of housing in this country.’
So Amy will have to wait. Given that she probably needs an affordable rather than a market home, she will have to wait a long time. Given that she probably needs a rented home, May’s ‘more support’ doesn’t apply to her. And as for the government’s record of ‘providing housing support across all types of housing’, it must have slipped her mind that most government support now goes to propping up the housing market while renters are subject to ever growing list of caps, freezes and exclusions.
The answer is doubly disappointing because this week there has been something of a focus on homelessness. The second overview of housing exclusion in Europe by FEANTSA – which was well reviewed by Dawn Foster for the Guardian Housing Network – showed how homelessness is rising and reaching a crisis point across Europe – except Finland, where new approaches are being tried – especially in big cities. The UK features badly, being near the bottom of the European rankings. This should be ringing alarm bells everywhere, but especially in countries like ours that are doing particularly badly.
Meanwhile, the latest Housing Monitor from Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that councils were finding it increasingly difficult to find accommodation in the private rented sector for a wide range of homeless people, from single people to large families, and that the roll out of Universal Credit and the next round of benefit cuts would make matters worse. It quotes one south of England council respondent as saying: “LHA (Local Housing Allowance) is staggeringly out of step with actual market rents, to the extent that there are virtually no properties… let at LHA rates. Coupled with landlords’ increasing reluctance to accept people on benefits, and unwillingness to offer anything beyond an initial 6 month AST (Assured Shorthold Tenancy), it is now all but impossible to place people into the private sector.”
McDonagh tweeted that Theresa May’s response was ‘completely inadequate’. Given that Theresa May should also be aware that the Homelessness Reduction Bill (a worthy piece of legislation which will be overwhelmed by the reality of rising numbers as soon as it reaches the Statute Book) is due its Third Reading in the House of Lords tomorrow and will receive Royal Assent shortly, the phrase ‘completely inadequate’ is about as mild a term as she could have chosen.