Poverty has got considerably worse since 2010 – and it's time the Tories faced up to it

A broken housing market, low wages, unreliable unemployment and a punitive benefits system have all combined over the last eight years to produce widespread poverty. This is a mess of their own making

Hannah Fearn
Wednesday 26 December 2018 12:23
Comments
George Osborne denies his austerity caused homelessness crisis: ‘It's not a lack of money’

Heartrending tales of homelessness at Christmas have long been useful fodder for local newspapers, filling the pages with tragic tales of misfortune during the difficult festive fortnight in which – under normal circumstances, you understand – very little of real consequence happens that can be reported as news. For decades, and in particular during the final years of the Labour administration that ended in 2010, these personal stories of loss, while desperately sad, remained remarkably similar and usually involved redundancy, mental health crisis, addiction or family breakdown.

Then, around about 2015, the heartstring tuggers served by charities and campaigners at Christmas began to change. Homelessness was beginning to affect families who had, on paper, no reason to appear vulnerable: families with two parents and a supportive network of friends and extended family, at least one adult in full time work and earning enough to meet their other needs. Housing stock was becoming more scarce, landlords more avaricious, and for these families, work no longer paid. The end of a private tenancy became the number one cause of new cases of homelessness; some of these unlucky renters were the victims of the particularly malicious practice of “revenge eviction”, and were told to start packing their boxes and hunt for a new home within days of reporting a problem or requesting a repair.

This year, the situation has hit a new low. Last week a homeless man was found dying outside Westminster – one of 50 people a week to lose their life while homeless in 2018. Homelessness rates are rising inexorably, with child homelessness now at its highest point for 12 years – 123,600 children are living in temporary accommodation this winter, a 70 per cent increase on the number when the Conservatives came to power in 2010.

Homelessness, however, is only the most visible and most emotive aspect of the social welfare crisis engulfing this country. Nine children in every school class of 30 now live in poverty, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, with the majority of those also living in households where parents or guardians are in paid work. In total, 14.3 million people live in poverty in this country – more than a fifth of the British population, a staggering statistic in its own right – and 7 per cent of these are in persistent poverty, with no let up and no obvious route of escape.

Why is this happening? It’s not just the desperate situation in the private housing market and persistent low wages and unreliable employment that leave people without enough money. Cuts to benefit payments have also done damage, as has the introduction of the failed universal credit system, which delays and restricts payments and has left thousands relying on foodbanks through periods of literally zero income. Those delays and backlogs are not just hiccups: according to the magazine Inside Housing, those on universal credit are twice as likely to become homeless as those on the old benefits system, where rental payment was guaranteed to reach the claimant’s landlord directly and on time.

Those are only the effects of the government’s welfare reform as it was intended to operate. The unintentional impact is adding further hardship.

The DWP was forced to admit this month that 4,500 disabled people, among the most vulnerable people in Britain, have wrongly lost benefits. The money will be returned but it’s a bleak midwinter for those expected to wait for what they are entitled to until the government has remedied its own administrative fat fingers.

The government claims that the homelessness crisis, which should by now be a national embarrassment, is not the fault of its own policies. James Brokenshire, the housing and communities secretary, instead blamed drug use and family breakdown in a recent interview. Those factors are not new; they certainly were not invented in the last decade – and they do not, alone, explain why the situation has got so much worse since 2010.

The minister’s name must be a millstone to carry around in that job. For the rest of us it is a darkly comic reminder of the nation we’ve ended up with under his own government’s administration.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in