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50 Years Ago: Homeless in London

Last November, the Press and the politicians suddenly noticed that in London the number of homeless families was increasing.

The London County Council Housing Department estimates that within a year the number of homeless will grow from the present 3,000 to 5,000, perhaps more. Every week there are about 45 families seeking temporary accommodation. The Council is only able to fix up about 36 a week with permanent shelter.

Since the war 30,000 homeless families have been provided with temporary shelter by the L.C.C. In 1957 there were 280 homeless families in L.C.C. centres. Between 1958 and 1960 the number fluctuated between 410 and 435, and in November, 1961, it rose to 641.

Social workers who cannot understand why this should happen have persuaded the L.C.C. to appoint a committee of enquiry into the problem, and are awaiting its findings. They take the view that it will soon be impossible for anybody to live in London, except as a Council tenant, if he is earning less than £18 per week.

Who are the homeless?

They are not the aged, infirm, or the so-called problem families who are attended to quite separately. They are the young working men and women who, if they had their own accommodation, would be ordinary working men and women like most Londoners. The husbands work, mainly in unskilled jobs, and earn an average of £10 or £12 per week.

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If we look a little deeper than the Press and politicians, the first thing to be noted is the age of the problem. In fact, it goes back to the beginning of modern capitalism. Many writers have exposed it in the past, all the reformist political parties and politicians have at some time stated that they had a solution to the problem. Still it persists.

It is a strange thing how all these well-intentioned people overlook one thing. The investigators have all commented on the fact that these homeless families all live on low wages so it is the families with low incomes who are liable to be homeless. The rent is too high, the income is too low; they cannot afford, or to use the jargon of the market, they do not constitute an effective demand. Poverty is the word, and the present increase in the number of homeless in London is due to just that. The whole question of housing or lack of it, not only in London, but throughout the world, is part of the problem of poverty.

(Article by R.A., Socialist Standard, February 1962.)