Crisis? What crisis? Just ask the ever-growing numbers of UK and overseas nationals being forced to sleep rough

I thought Thatcher’s cardboard box city of rough sleepers outside Waterloo station had gone forever

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Last week Tory MPs in the House of Commons laughed at the fact that there are large numbers of people needing to have food distributed to them from foodbanks.

Iain Duncan Smith skulked out of the debate on the issue without bothering to comment, and refused to meet with the leader of the Trussell Trust, which has seen the number of people being served at least three days of emergency food triple over the last year.

Apparently the “Britain isn’t eating” poster has made IDS really upset. Plus, many of the poorest have had to resort to payday loans to make ends meet.

Crisis, what crisis?

According to the Homelessness Monitor published by Crisis, homelessness in England – including rough sleeping – continues on an upward trajectory.

Thus in 2012 rough sleeping in England rose 6 per cent, compared with 23 per cent in 2011. In London, there was a rise of 13 per cent in recorded rough sleeping in 2012/13, pushing the two-year increase to over 60 per cent.

There are growing numbers of both UK and overseas nationals sleeping rough in the capital, and the growth in statutory homelessness is strongly concentrated in London and the South.

There are sharply rising numbers being made homeless by the loss of private-sector tenancies, accounting for 22 per cent of all homelessness acceptances at national level in 2012/13. This is now the single largest cause of statutory homelessness in London.

Temporary accommodation placements, according to Crisis, rose 10 per cent during 2012/13, with B&B placements rising even faster (14 per cent). “Out of district” temporary accommodation placements have doubled since 2010.

Use of both temporary accommodation and out-of-district placements remains overwhelmingly concentrated in London.

“Hidden” forms of homelessness – including concealed, sharing and overcrowded households – are also far more prevalent in London and the South.

I thought Thatcher’s cardboard box city of rough sleepers outside Waterloo station, which Tony Blair closed down, had gone forever.

Crisis, what crisis?

Then there are the entirely unfounded fears spread by UKIP leader Nigel Farage and repeated by David Cameron that the country will be overrun by benefit shopping Romanians and Bulgarians on 1 January.

This looks extremely unlikely.

The question is, how many will come, and is there evidence they don’t want to work?

First, they can go to any country in the EU where there are better opportunities, especially Austria and Germany, which have much lower unemployment rates (4.8 per cent and 5.2 per cent respectively) versus 7.4 per cent in the UK.

Although it should be said that Romania actually has a lower unemployment rate than the UK does (7.3 per cent) whereas Bulgaria’s is higher (9 per cent).

The availability of jobs is going to be a crucial factor determining if people from these two countries move, and if they do, where they go.

The growing concern about immigration mostly arises from the fact that since 2004, employment for those age 16-plus is up by one and three quarter million.

Employment of the UK born is down by 62,000, while employment of the non-UK born is up 1.8 million, or 69 per cent.

Employment from those 2004 A8 accession countries – Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia and principally Poland – is up 615,000; from Bulgaria and Romania it is up 123,000.

As background we should note that the employment rate of the East Europeans who showed up in the UK since 2004 is 77 per cent for those from Bulgaria and Romania and 79 per cent from the A8, compared with 72 per cent for those born in the UK. Although it should be said that most research does not find evidence that the expansion of immigration leads to negative labour market outcomes for native-born workers. Plus, a paper released this week by NIESR shows that any significant reduction in net migration would have strong negative effects on the UK economy.

 A recent Eurobarometer survey conducted between April and May 2013 asked three relevant questions that may help us to judge how many folks will come and why.

The first question was “would you consider working in another EU country?” The proportion saying ‘yes definitely’ and ‘yes, probably’ are plotted in the chart. The highest proportion is Sweden (54 per cent); 31 per cent said this in the UK compared to 21 per cent of Romanians and 20 per cent of Bulgarians.

This doesn’t suggest the 8 million Bulgarians and 23 million Romanians are that desperate to leave and are all packing their suitcases for the UK. They aren’t.

The respondents who said they would move were then asked for the main reasons for considering working in another EU member state; the most popular was to get a higher salary; the answer given by 89 per cent of Bulgarians and 85 per cent of Romanians, the highest proportions in any country as is clear from the second chart. Benefits are way down the list.

None of the evidence points to a flood of benefit or even job seekers arriving at Victoria Coach Station next week.

Cameron’s xenophobic suggestion that unrestricted immigration should only be allowed from countries that have a similar level of wealth to the UK is unenforceable and illegal.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg stepped in and sensibly noted that imposing caps on EU migrants is a non-starter and contrary to European law.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev warned his countrymen were none too happy about any country bringing down ‘iron curtains’. Long gone are the days of the caring Big Society. The Tories are now playing the “feckless bastards” blame game.

Nasty lot.

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