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Con-Dems are presiding over a growing social catastrophe
The latest government figures show that the number of people approaching their council as homeless is 23% higher than at the same time last year, while the proportion being accepted as homeless and helped with their housing actually fell by 2%.
These figures point to a growing social catastrophe over the next few years as the impact of planned benefit cuts will come on top of the pain of recession.
The government's 'Localism' bill will weaken the rights of homeless people further, allowing councils to push homeless families into privately rented accommodation rather than social housing. This will lock them into insecure, poor quality housing. Changes will also allow councils to alter the way they count the homeless so they can hide the problem by redefining homelessness.
For each person homeless there are many more living in impossible conditions with their lives dominated by the fear of losing their home. A new survey commissioned from YouGov by the housing charity Shelter shows a jump in the number of people suffering stress and depression of seven million people since its last survey in 2009. The average rent rose by 0.5% to £696 (£996 a month in London) in May, the fourth successive month of growth, according to the latest index from LSL Property Services. That brings rents to a new record high.
No relief from rising rents is in sight. A report from Rightmove has forecast a 10% rent rise over the next year. Rising rents have forced record numbers of young couples to share flats rather than get a place of their own. Over the past year alone the number of couples looking to share a flat with other tenants has soared by 81%, according to research by the easyroommate.co.uk website.
Trade unions and housing campaigners need to give expression to the growing frustration and misery behind these figures. Repossessions (up 15% in the first quarter of the year) and evictions are a result of the impact of rising prices and rents along with stagnant wages.
But as the housing benefit cuts bite over the next few years things will get much worse for groups such as the unemployed, the disabled and pensioners. It is vital that the trade unions campaign energetically on the questions of low pay and housing.
It is a scandal that the minimum wage is to be increased by less than the government measure of inflation, which itself is an underestimate of inflation experienced by the poor and low paid.
Private rents must be capped as an emergency measure. The Tory/Liberal response to rising rents of cutting benefits is a scandal in this situation and their plans must be reversed immediately. Labour also had plans to cap benefits and now just criticises the government for moving too fast.
But even before the housing benefit cuts bite, and without a mass campaign of explanation, a recent poll shows that 65% of people believe that housing benefit should stay at current levels or be increased (Inside Housing, 17 June).
The underlying issue remains a shortage of decent housing. House building is at its lowest peace time level since just after World War One and the government plans a 63% cut in funding for social house building with future homes to be at near market rents.
The banks should be fully nationalised and made to give low interest loans for a massive programme of house building and repair.
In The Socialist 22 June 2011:
Socialist Party feature
Building for 30th June
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Reviews and comments
Fighting the cuts