Socialist Worker

Crash on the streets—how cruel Tory plans will fuel homeless crisis

Sackings and benefits sanctions have left ever more people struggling to pay their rent. The Tories’ plan to end a ban on evictions in September—meaning thousands could be thrown out, reports Sadie Robinson

Issue No. 2719

Tory plans will force more people onto the streets

Tory plans will force more people onto the streets (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Some 230,000 people could be made homeless across England because of a Tory policy change expected late next month. It’s the equivalent of more than the entire population of Portsmouth losing their homes.

Under pressure, the Tories announced a temporary suspension of evictions for some tenants on Friday last week. But this will soon end—and already people are being threatened with eviction.

Cleaning manager Deborah in Southport has been relying on food banks to feed herself and her daughter during the pandemic.

“My landlady keeps harassing me as she wants me out,” Deborah told the Shelter housing charity.

“I was furloughed, and I asked her if we could come to an agreement on the rent while we saw what happened. She went ballistic and demanded I pay it all.”

Mikkel is the founder of Under One Sky, a collection of volunteers ­providing support to homeless people in London.

He told Socialist Worker that the end to the eviction moratorium could mean “we start seeing a different type of new-to-the-streets person” being made homeless.

“I am currently living in a shed in my sister’s garden. I have been living here for four months.

A homeless person quoted by the Groundswell project

The end of other policies such as Everyone In, where some homeless people were temporarily housed in hotels, has already had an effect.

“We saw people returning to the street who had been part of the hotel solution,” said Mikkel. “The funding for the scheme basically ended. Publicly the plan is to rehouse people, and that is happening for some but clearly not for all.

“If the accommodation wasn’t there before, why should it suddenly ­miraculously turn up?”

Homeless people abandoned in a system ‘designed to fail’
Homeless people abandoned in a system ‘designed to fail’
  Read More

The Groundswell project has ­monitored the impact of coronavirus on homeless people throughout the pandemic.

Its latest briefing spells out the desperate situations that people are enduring.

“I am currently living in a shed in my sister’s garden,” explained one person. “I have been living here for four months.

“I’ve been receiving food from a food bank every two weeks. The food lasts about four days. I was sanctioned by the DWP in March for three months and it was only lifted in June.”

Tory policies and the system they defend pushes more people into homelessness—then traps them there. Many people who eventually get into temporary accommodation find themselves stuck paying off old council tax arrears or crisis loans.

These are automatically deducted from benefits—Groundswell found that some people got only half their benefits due to arrears deductions.

This leaves people with even less to get by on and makes future rent arrears—and eviction—more likely.

We had to call more ambulances because people were more suicidal. There were suicide attempts

Mikkel, from Under One Sky

Several homeless people said they had no income at all during the ­pandemic due to a benefit sanction. Some were forced to beg. Many felt “forgotten”.

“I’ve heard a lot of people are ­thinking about suicide,” said one housing support worker. “I’ve never had so many people tell me that there’s no hope and no point in going on.”

Mikkel said, “I felt we saw three phases during the pandemic. The first was that homeless people lacked basic necessities, such as food. Then we saw more health-related issues, such as lice.

“Then there was a mental health phase. We had to call more ambulances because people were more suicidal. There were suicide attempts.”

The Tories put profit above ordinary people. Or as they put it, they will end the eviction suspension “to allow the market to operate”.

As firms cut jobs and the Tories wind down their furlough scheme, rising ­numbers of people fear homelessness.

Shelter research last month found that nearly one in five parents who privately rent were more concerned that their family will become homeless.

Some 174,000 private ­tenants had already been threatened with eviction, 2 percent of the total.

As Deborah said, “You’re always one step away from eviction.”

Homeless people on the streets face harrasment from enforcement officers

Homeless people on the streets face harrasment from enforcement officers (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Tenants say, ‘People can achieve a lot if they stand up for themselves’

A group of mainly women tenants in east London have shown that it’s possible to challenge councils and corporate landlords—and win. Their campaigning forced Newham council to take back more than 250 properties in Custom House and Canning Town from private firm Mears.

The firms that previously leased out the homes had dismissed the working class people who lived in them. Now the tenants’ victory means a drastic rent cut and promises of improvements.

Custom House tenant campaigner Boglarka told Socialist Worker how ordinary people challenged the rule of profit. “I moved into the home in 2011 and it wasn’t long before problems started to show,” she said.

“The windows wouldn’t close properly, and in winters it was really cold. Rents were sky high. I was falling into arrears.

“Parts of Canning Town and Custom House had initially been marked for demolition in 2000. My estate was a ‘sink estate’ with persistent socio‑economic problems. Creating ‘mixed communities’ and having ‘market-led regeneration’ were offered as a panacea.

“By 2011 it became obvious that homeless households needed to be accommodated. The council signed up to a PFI scheme with temporary housing provider Tando. It took over the leases of 263 homes.

Substandard

“Our homes have always been very basic and substandard. As they became ‘privately rented’ under Tando, they were made exempt from the ‘decent homes standard’. But the lack of maintenance and repairs made things far worse.

“Mears acquired Tando in 2014. Both were adamant that tenants like us ‘should not really expect more than basic repairs’ as the blocks were to be demolished and we were only ‘temporary’ tenants.

“I felt cheated. PFI was not working for the people. Whatever problems there were, Mears was slow to respond.

“I started looking for campaigns and I found Peach (People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House), so I joined. We had several protests and regular meetings. We planned a rent strike. The campaign was mostly made up of women with children in temporary accommodation. We documented every issue and handed it all to the council.

“We found out that our rents were approximately 2.5 times higher than those paid by our council tenant neighbours.

“When I heard the council was taking our homes back under council management, I felt very happy. I felt finally we can get on with our lives.

Wasted

“Yet it took years of campaigning before the Labour council agreed and it will be a gradual process from September. The council still doesn’t have concrete plans for what to do with the homes. It has wasted some 20 years already.

“Problems with the homes are still there—my house is in really bad condition. We still have to fight. We don’t want developers and venture capital coming here and taking advantage. Now we are spreading the word, and more people are joining the campaign. We are hoping to win affordable homes for everyone.

“I hope we inspire other groups. We have shown the power of people.

“To anyone in a similar situation I would say, don’t give up. Look for local organisations. Organise in your neighbourhood to get things going.

“I feel that the message ‘people not profit’ has never been clearer. People can achieve a lot if they stand up for themselves.”


Massive rise in rent arrears

  • The Tories announced a suspension of new evictions earlier this year as the pandemic raged
  • But they gave no protection to anyone already in the process of being evicted
  • Pressure forced the Tories to extend their policy in June, and again last week. It will now expire on 20 September
  • An estimated 227,000 adult private renters in England had fallen into rent arrears between the start of the pandemic and last month—3 percent of the total
  • The rise took the total number of adults in arrears to 442,000

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.