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. And they usually have two or more children. What happens to them?
If the need for help is accepted by the Council basic shelter (and that is all it is) is given to the wife and children at a standard charge of £4 3s. per week. The men must make their own arrangements. As soon as possible the family is moved to another centre, where they can be together in one room. The standard all-in charge for this is £7 per week for a couple with two children. Finally, the lucky ones are moved to “short stay” of “half way” houses where they may have two rooms, cater for themselves, and pay between £1. 5s. and £2 6s. a week. But these are always full, and it may be years before a family gets one. If they do, the Council stresses that they are only temporarily in residence there.
What can they do about it? There are four possibilities open to them.
1 Council houses and flats. The housing list is enormous. The L.C.C. has 52,000 families on its books and 28,000 more waiting to be entered. Owing to slum clearance and other urgent schemes, only 1.000 dwellings yearly can be allocated to those on the housing list. Priority is given on a strict points system. If the homeless were given top priority the Council is afraid there would immediately be a rush to become “homeless.”
2 Private unfurnished accommodation. If it can be found, the rent is too high or there is a premium or a lease. Private developers are not building properties to rent unless they are in the luxury class. It is more profitable to build for a quick sale.
3 Furnished accommodation. Either rents are too high or the landlords can pick and choose their tenants because of the shortage and will not tolerate young children.
4 The new and expanding towns. The chance of moving to these is remote because most of the jobs available are for skilled workers.
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.
The present situation has produced its usual crop of remedies, from suggestions for a differential rents’ scheme to birth control. The L.C.C. may put some of the homeless into property awaiting demolition and are thinking of putting up what are called mobile buildings. If one judges by temporary buildings put up in the past by various councils mobile is the last thing they will be.
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.