I must look like just the sort of person who would give money to charity – people accost me in the street all the time. I do give a lot of money to charitable causes, but, so the argument goes, giving to a half-dozen organisations already does not preclude giving money to another one. It was therefore with an inner groan that I was approached on Regent Street this evening. The person who engaged me in lively conversation for 10 minutes was a kindly and determined woman called Mary Harvey, working for Notting Hill Housing. They aim to construct housing for displaced and homeless people in London, and provide training for people that are homeless, allowing them back into the labour market. It’s all very admirable but my position is that this is something for the government to cope with, not something that I should be making donations for.
I’ve had a look around to gain an overview of the situation of UK housing and homelessness situation and it’s all so horrible. Shelter is so concerned about the lack of affordable housing that they have an appeal for 20,000 more affordable homes to be provided in England, and a 5 point plan to solve Britain’s housing crisis. Crisis provides statistics about the homelessness problem here. Of particular note is that mental health problems are 9 times more likely among the homeless population than among the population as a whole.
Yet while all of this is very pressing, what should be done? Homelessness is not a political priority, the government has little or no determination to do anything, and as Mary Harvey stated, the housing shortage is more acute now than it was in 1997. There are ideas – such as those from Richard Layard – that would improve mental health, but little sign that the government is ready to do anything. The UK is one of the world’s richest nations, and London is Europe’s richest region. Yet the government seems ready to turn a blind eye to all of this, thanks in large part because elections are not won and lost on this. Very depressing.