Even with the global economic crisis Britain still remains one of the richest countries in the world. I am not an expert of government finances by any stretch of the imagination, but when the government announce that despite the recession they have found money to spend a million pounds a day over almost a year in an operation to remove the former Libyan dictator we can’t be that broke.
So if as a country we are still relatively rich why the hell do we have disproportionately so many homeless people? BBC flagship current affairs programme took a look at this in its episode “Britain’s Hidden Housing Crisis”.
First off I am not sure why the title refers to a “hidden” crisis? In the larger cities of the UK there is a real and very visible crisis, what is not in dispute is that there is a crisis. Identifying a crisis is one thing, working out the solutions is another but one way is to take a look at how people end up homeless which is what this edition of Panorama did.
It followed a number of individual and families and over 5 months documented their experience of being or becoming homeless.
There was the case of Kevin Browne an investment banker who in good times lived in America running his own business, come the credit crunch it all fell apart and he ended up being repatriated to the UK.
His immediate problem seemed to stem from another of things. Firstly he seemed to have no social network he could rely on in the UK for support on his return, no willing family or friends. Secondly having being away from the UK for a while the local council, in this case Croydon, had to assess whether he was a UK resident and eligible for benefits. Thirdly being a single man he was way down the priority list for emergency housing. The end result was many nights in local park.
He was eventually given support and moved into accommodation His story ended, somewhat ironically, with him looking for employment back in the investment banking industry.
There was also the case of the 52-year-old Dagenham Grandmother Patricia Taylor who after a battle with breast cancer and a marriage breakdown fell behind with her mortgage payment to Barclays Bank to the tune £9,000. She was evicted from her home of fifteen years.
The council offered her emergency accommodation which she accepted without having seen it. When she did eventually see the property it was dire and insecure, but there the reality of the housing bureaucracy hit. As she had already accepted it, if she now refused to move in she would be in effect making herself “intentionally homeless” removing from the council any further obligation to house her.
The phrase “intentionally homeless” was one that came up repeatedly in the programme, and sadly it is becoming heavily relied upon by hard pressed councils across the country to trim down their waiting lists by proving people are knowingly putting themselves in that position.
The debate over being “intentionally homeless ” came up again in the case of Nick Bull and his family of six. Employment problems had led to mortgage arrears. The Council argued that by failure to make regular rent payments for their Council flat and also to file paper work to maintain housing benefit meant they had made themselves “intentionally homeless”. This resulted in protracted fight with the council and the family being moved from one emergency accommodation to another.
At the end council upheld their initial ruling and family were ultimately left to fend for themselves.
Successful businessman Lee his wife Sharon and his kids were a victim of the recession. His engineering business collapsed and their income plummeted, they tried to negotiate with their mortgage lender the Bank of Scotland, but bank rejected offer and they were evicted. Their case was illustrative how over the years the government support for home owners with mortgages who are caught out in a crisis has been rolled back to virtually nothing now.
Four different stories, different reasons and different outcomes, some had questions of self-responsibility others just ill-luck but all reveal that beneath the veneer of affluence is a very dark and depressing world into which an increasing amount of people are being pulled into.