There has been a 15% increase in 2017 in rough sleeping and this is the seventh consecutive year of increase. The problem is tangibly growing worse every year and there seems little but lip service paid by the government, which is currently overwhelmed by the practicalities of the Brexit negotiations.
The attitude towards homelessness among the leadership of some local authorities may be seen as deplorable. As Jack Williams discusses, we have seen the leader of Winsor and Maidenhead Council demand that police crackdown on ‘aggressive begging’ and that the homeless be forcibly removed. His language has raised great alarm and concern but he remains in office. Of his comments, the most shocking is the assumption that some people are somehow rough sleeping out of “voluntary choice”. This notion draws attention away from the fact that this issue of street homelessness in the UK is linked to wider governmental policies, and that, without significant reinvestment, there is unlikely to be any improvement in the situation. Now, there have been calls to impose fines rough sleepers in the area. Clearly a radical shift in the way we treat homeless people is needed.
What Mr Corbyn Proposes
8000 house pledge
When pressed on the Andrew Marr Show on 28 January 2018 Mr Corbyn stated that he would “immediately purchase 8,000 properties across the country to give immediate housing to those people who are currently [street] homeless”.
Across England, and especially in London, there is simply not enough affordable housing. What housing is available is grossly overpriced. Dormant ghost buildings bought up by wealthy investors are left empty whilst more and more rough sleepers bed down in the streets.
Given the major housing uncertainty and rising rough homelessness that Britain is facing year on year it is clear that Mr Corbyn’s proposals sound promising, particularly after the growing support the leader of the opposition gained in the lead up to the last election.
Driving down the price of private land
As well as the above, Labour shocked many by announcing that they intend to legislate to allow for the cheap compulsory purchasing of private land. Legislation would be introduced to allow for local authorities to purchase property at face value, without planning permission expectation value added.
The current trend of “land banking”, which is the purchasing of land for sale or development, can be unhealthy in that it does not aid the public good, and favours the interests of the privileged few. Many companies that do not build homes buy up land with housing planning permission and profit from speculation. There is a total lack of incentive to build new properties and as a result, the land remains barren for long periods of time, depriving people of the potential for much needed homes.
The cheaper acquisition of land by local authorities would put an end to spiralling and absurd speculative investment in property and would encourage a ‘use it or lose it’ attitude. Not only would the state be building but the private sector would also be galvanised. A combination of improving purchasing powers and reinvesting in local authorities may actually break the deadlock in the housing market and create real change in the form of more roofs over people’s heads and better-quality housing. The knock-on enhancement in the general standard of living that could be produced by these policies is really something to get excited about.
We can achieve a better system by investing and calling in the likes of the late architect Neave Browne to transform our urban areas by providing well-constructed and long lasting social housing. At this moment in time, however, there are no strong incentives in the housing market to build housing units that are affordable and the powers local authorities have to build social housing are limited.
What Mr Corbyn proposes is a radical move away from the current overreliance on private markets to resolve these issues, and may be the answer necessary to overcome the homelessness crisis, but he may find it difficult to receive backing for such a radical overhaul of the existing system.