- A prominent political activist says that the United Kingdom government is improperly allocating financial resources to address the growing housing crisis and homelessness.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Toby Lloyd, the head of policy at Shelter, to further discuss the problems of the growing cases of homelessness in the UK.
Let's begin with David Cameron and the coalition government who say that in the run up to the last general election they were going to put inequality and those kinds of issues at the top of their agenda. How have they done?
Lloyd: Well, not so well so far. We know that homelessness is rising. We know that in the run up to Christmas almost 640 households every single day are going to receive a letter threatening them with the loss of their home. They could end up in court fighting to keep the roof over their heads.
And the public imaginations' view of homelessness is that, basically, these are alcoholics, drug addicts and so forth. Are those the 640 a day?
Lloyd: It's absolutely not the case. We know that homelessness is a horrific experience...
Not that alcoholics and drug addicts shouldn't be looked after
Lloyd: Absolutely. But we know that the vast majority of homeless people who face the threat of homelessness are ordinary people who, for one reason or another, have run into difficulties with the mortgage or with their rent.
We know that high living costs, falling wages and the high cost of housing is pushing more and more people from every walk of life into the nightmare of facing homelessness.
Why do you think we don't hear more about homelessness as an issue? It's more about people suffering during the economic crisis, but not necessarily losing their homes. They did hear about those kinds of stories perhaps in 2008. They seemed to disappeared a little.
Lloyd: Well, I'm afraid that's a question for the media. We know that, actually, repossessions are rising fast. We know that more and more people from all different parts of society are facing losing their home. We know that every two minutes someone in this country faces the nightmare of homelessness.
We know that homelessness is a problem that is affecting more and more people from different segments of society. We know that people who are home owners are finding themselves overstretched. We know that people who are renters are finding - if they lose their jobs, if they fall sick or if something else happens in their lives - that it can only take one little thing and then, suddenly, all sorts of people are finding themselves unable to meet their mortgage payments, running into difficulty paying their rent, and they can be faced with the really traumatic experience of losing their home and finding themselves with nowhere to go.
And how far are the government and local councils helping those people who get letters saying they might become homeless, threatening them? Where do they go to? This is going out internationally, so one doesn't want to make it too British. Presumably, some British viewers of this program will have got that letter, what's there to protect them from, presumably, private bailiffs knocking their door down and making them homeless?
Lloyd: Well, not very much at the moment. Unfortunately, the government is not doing enough to protect those who are faced with homelessness, to support them, to enable them to stay in their homes. And Shelter urges the government to do more to prevent the nightmare of homelessness.
Well, just tell me a little bit more about Shelters and Organizations. It's a charity, it's been around for quite a long time and, yet, homelessness seems to have got worse. I mean, is Shelter not doing its job properly?
Lloyd: Well, we obviously still have a huge challenge in front of us. We have a network of advice centers around the country. We have online advice - anyone can go to our website (http://england.shelter.org.uk/), anyone can phone our helpline that's open seven days a week - because we know that the best thing to help the nightmare of homelessness is to get advice early. Too many people leave it too early before seeking advice. And often by then, it's too late to help them.
Do you think there's a problem that private charities can serve the homelessness, and the importance of the private sector? I know you're a registered charity involved in these issues dilutes the issue a little in a sense that government and democrat accountability is really the way to change homelessness.
Lloyd: Well, our main priority is always to provide advice to households to help them to improve their housing situation. And secondly, to lobby the government to ensure that there really is a decent housing safety net there that can protect people when they run into difficulties.
So why can't the government's advice agencies help those people instead of a private charity?
Lloyd: The government doesn't have advise agencies in this space. A lot of our contracts are supported by the government although those contracts are now under threat because the government is cutting back on the extent it's prepared to provide advice to people faced with homelessness.
London, many people say, is a city-state economy very different to the rest of the country. But, the numbers have increased massively recently?
Lloyd: Well, we know that homelessness of all kinds is rising right now, particularly in high-value, expensive areas like London where more and more people have found it difficult to afford rental accommodation.
What sort of numbers?
Lloyd: There are 50,000 households already in temporary accommodation. Those are houses who've been accepted as homeless by their local authority and have been placed in temporary accommodation.
How far do you see the Occupy Movement, for instance - which I know who had a homeless tent as part of its issue-raising activities - helping raise awareness and consciousness about homelessness?
Lloyd: I'm not aware that it has been, to be honest.
The government has been very keen to enforce benefit changes, it says that too much money is being wasted.
Lloyd: Well, the cutbacks on housing benefits have been particularly serious, and will mean that more and more people don't have the support they need to enable them to sustain themselves and their home.
We're seeing a whole series of cuts in the support that people can get to help them pay their rent. And that means that more and more people are forced to go to their local authority pleading for help to protect them from homelessness.
Which presumably not because just the cabinet are full of multi-millionaires who don't consider this an important issue. Why do you think people in the coalition government are more aware of what you're saying?
Lloyd: I'm afraid you'd have to ask them that. We've been making the case very strongly that further cuts to housing benefit will have a really serious impact on people.
In the run up to Christmas, we know that more and more people are going to be faced with homelessness. We help 6,000 people every year avoid the nightmare of homelessness, but there are many, many more out there who need help and support. And we urge the government to do more to protect them.
Well, the government says there isn't the money and that, you know, this is a capitalist economy and the money has to go on other things, not on these issues at the moment, we can wait a little while before we have to consider this topic.
Lloyd: Well, maybe they don't recognize the extreme severity of the nightmare of homelessness. When the shelter conducted research on people who had actually faced the nightmare of losing their home, they found that 61 percent of them had actually suffered a stress-related illness as a result.
That, obviously, then has costs implications for the national health service in terms of the tax revenue for people who are not able to work anymore or they become too ill.
We know that homelessness has really serious impacts on people. When you actually ask people to rate the severity of different life experiences, we found out that ending up homeless or being threatened with homelessness actually rates more severely than things like being burgled, more severely than things like fighting with your children in the divorce courts, than anti-social behavior.
And these are all things that the government is very keen to act on. So we urge them very strongly to recognize the severity of the experience of being made homeless, and to do more to protect people from it.
Well, I was on the strand the other day and I noticed the soup kitchen ques there were getting longer and longer, and people, I mean, obviously it should be an issue regardless of how you're dressed, but you can see it's affecting not just the very poorest in society now. How do you think that'll change Shelter's work, and do you think that it'll affect the government that middle class people are becoming homeless?
Lloyd: It doesn't change Shelter's work because we already work with anybody who is faced with homelessness. And as I said, the vast majority of those who become homeless or are threatened with homelessness are not on the streets, they're not the kind of people that visits soup kitchens.
These are ordinary working households who for one reason or another have found themselves unable to make their mortgage payments or unable to keep up with their rent and can suddenly find themselves in very severe difficulties and threatened with losing a roof over their head.
Given the benefit incomes aren't keeping up to the rising prices - and I know that government is changing RPI and CPI measures of inflation to target benefits - can people really survive on benefits at the moment with inflation rising at that level? - Because some people are saying the homeless, actually, with their disposable income every penny they get they spend and it's actually good for the economy. Do you think that's even an issue?
Lloyd: Well, housing benefit is a slightly different case because housing benefit has never been pegged to an inflation measure before because housing benefit has always been related to the actual rents people pay which makes sense because we know that as rents rise, it's essential that people who are on housing benefit are able to pay their rent otherwise they will find themselves faced with homelessness. It's a nightmare for that household, especially if they have children, and it's also a cost to the state.
So, we urge the government to think again about picking housing benefit to CPI because we know that CPI doesn't keep track with rents. And as rents are rising very fast, the gaps between what people can get in benefit and what they're asked to pay in rent is just going to get bigger and bigger.
Why do you think the public sector hasn't been able to come up to the job, that it needs private charities to help in this way? Around the world, around in Europe and in the United States, people say the only hope has become these private registered charities. Why are government institutions failing?
Lloyd: Well, successive governments just haven't put enough emphasis on our housing crisis. They haven't put the money in there to support enough affordable house building which is really what is urgently needed.
But you've consulted for democratically elected institutions, which Shelter isn't, how do you see the failures in government, democratically elected structures in helping solve this problem?
Lloyd: Well, as you've said, government's just haven't given the housing crisis sufficient priority.