Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1031/28757
Cuts councils massage homelessness figures - build council houses now!
How should councils deal with the deepening housing crisis and the homelessness and desperation it creates?
Begin a mass programme of council house building? Introduce rent controls? Confiscate empty homes owned by rich oligarchs? Allow working-class people to move into them? Fight for a living wage for all workers? Scrap insecure and zero-hour contracts?
Well, according to pro-cuts councils, the answer is none of the above. Because a much simpler solution has apparently presented itself: massaging the figures.
According to the Guardian, in 2018 some 30 councils changed the way they compiled statistics on the number of rough sleepers living in their areas.
After switching from providing estimates - which take into account the fact that those forced to sleep on the streets move around, and are not outside and visible at all times - to providing statistics based on head counts, many councils registered a significant drop in the official homelessness figures in 2018.
Brighton and Hove Council, which has a Labour administration, saw a staggering 85% reduction in official rough sleeper numbers between 2017 and 2018 after changing to this method. It's reported that some councils even conducted their head counts on snowy evenings - probably aiming to minimise the recorded numbers as much as possible.
Whatever figures are officially produced, anyone who spends any time walking Britain's streets knows rough sleeping is certainly not a declining problem.
The Socialist Party says housing is a fundamental right. Instead of finding new ways to make homelessness figures look respectable, councils should be actively resisting its causes.
Labour councils around the country are currently sitting on 'general fund' reserves totalling around £9 billion.
This is money that could immediately be put to use to begin a desperately needed mass programme of council house building.
Along with passing no-cuts budgets, introducing rent controls, and using their powers to crack down on empty homes owned by super-rich speculators, councils have the power to make a decisive impact on this issue now. The example of the Militant-led Liverpool City Council of 1983-87 shows this.
Corbyn should pledge now that any Labour council prepared to take such an approach would have its funds immediately restored on day one of a Labour government.
In The Socialist 27 February 2019:
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