Poverty and homelessness: the risks remain

COVID-19 might have threatened to bring the scourge of homelessness to many more people in the UK. A swift response averted that crisis, but strong action on homes and work-creation is still needed to “Ride Out Recession” and prevent a descent into poverty, says John Bird (Lord Bird), founder of the The Big Issue and sponsor of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill currently making its way through parliament.

The world of recent yesterdays is being rewritten. We have a Conservative government – the party usually of austerity and making swingeing cuts – saying austerity didn’t work last time. And prepared to spend billions upon billions on keeping people in work and in their homes this time.

This is what we need. We need to keep families in their homes. We need to keep people in work. Anything short of that is wasteful of another generation. For falling into homelessness will destroy the future for the many.

All in it together

It’s not really possible to break down the future post-COVID-19 world into a kind of “What’s it going to do for young people?” This is all of us, young and old, working or studying, earning or receiving benefit, in it together.

So to answer “What is the future for young people?” I can only say “very grim” – unless we keep people housed and in work. If we can keep people, and their children, out of homelessness, then we will have achieved an enormous amount.

COVID-19 has changed my thinking entirely. When COVID-19 hit, and we could not sell The Big Issue on the streets for health reasons, I knew life was about to change for us. I was pleased to see the Government’s resolve to remove rough sleepers to a place of safety. I applauded this but insisted, along with many others, that they should not be decanted back onto the streets afterwards. It seems like a victory, but we must keep a watchful eye out to ensure that this is what happens.

Still a high risk

But then I read a report from the District Councils’ Network pointing out that upwards of half a million households could be declared homeless because of pandemic-induced poverty.

I realised that getting homeless people off the street was a vital and useful thing to do. But that preventing hundreds of thousands of people presenting themselves to local authorities as homeless – the worst of all nightmares – was essential.

So I have changed my concerns. I want to avoid such a vast amount of people falling homeless because of unemployment. Keeping people in their homes and in work is the big issue of this day and time.

Because of this we have begun to create an alliance across all sectors of government, parliament and the community. Called the “Ride Out Recession Alliance”, it is precisely what it wishes to see: instead of people washed away by recession, people actually being able to surf and ride above it.

Ride Out Recession

Our aims are to stop evictions taking place for up to two years. Keep people homed. Rents and mortgages must be paid by the government. The alternative of allowing people to slip into homelessness is far more costly than keeping people in their home.

Slipping into homelessness is vastly expensive to the state. So this is a cost-cutting exercise as well as being a socially good thing to do.

We are also calling for government to work with the community and businesses to create work and work programmes. The government has to invest in businesses to keep people in work. Home must go with work.

There is an enormous need for jobs to be created in the NHS to improve its delivery; also in education and schooling. “Care in the community”, once a hollow excuse, needs to be delivered by training up people to make our vulnerable happier and healthier.

There is a job of work to be done in environmental job creation to mend the damage of modern living. So we could get many of the people thrown out of work by the pandemic into life and skill-enhancing jobs that are useful to us all.

There is work also to be done to create jobs that improve our communities physically. Cleaning and removing the rubbish created by consumers should be seen as part and parcel of other work, avoiding the “litter picking” jobs of earlier job-creation schemes.

We also need to invest in creating the jobs of the new technology. Distance learning, programming; all of this should be available to the new workless.

For the young, with the young

If we can avoid the loss of breadwinners’ prosperity then it creates a much better world in which to be young. It creates the opportunity to equip our young people with skills that have yet to be invented, that would come out of a thirsty and hungry economy that is looking forward. Not just another generation in low-wage, low-skill jobs that many young people have too often been offered.

We need young voices in our alliance. We need to help ensure that people’s futures are not cancelled due to the arrival of poverty replacing opportunity in the market place.

I have been putting a Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill through Parliament. This recession-surviving alliance is the first stage of our work. The Bill will continue in parliament while we build an alliance that defeats the chances that future generations can but walk on the broken lives thrown up by COVID-19.

I do hope you join us in our alliance, and help us drive a coach and horses through a poverty that can be avoided, and a homelessness that can be stopped in its tracks.

Photo by Andreea Popa on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/@elfcodobelf