Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Rise in homelessness shows the cruelty at the heart of the austerity agenda.

A shelter built to house bicycles in the centre of Hanley has been taken over by a group of homeless men who have erected tents inside the structure.

The Old Hall Street 'Cycle Hub' was opened in 2015 as part of a plan to boost cycling in the city and cost £40,000.

There are no immediate plans to evict the men and a council spokesman told the Sentinel, 'there is a lot of professional support out there for people who are homeless or facing homelessness,' he went on to urge anyone in such a situation to come forward and ask for support.

This includes the newly council's newly opened 18 bed Macari Centre, at which homeless people can get a warm meal, a change of clothes and a bed for the night.

Also speaking to the Sentinel Danny Flynn, chief executive of North Staffordshire YMCA, said that 'for around twenty years we were starting to make inroads into the problem (of homelessness), but over the last five years things have got worse all over the country, mainly as the outcome of government cuts.'

He added that the YMCA currently had 38 people on its waiting list,some of whom would be sleeping rough, and said that what was needed to address the problem was 'a national programme for building new social housing.'

It is a sadly inescapable fact of political life that when a Tory government comes in, especially one wedded to austerity at all costs, the most vulnerable people in society tend to go out onto the streets. That is definitely what has happened in the five years since 2010, it is rare now to go into town and not see at least one poor soul sat in a doorway with all they own in a few plastic bags.

Lets be clear about this from the start, having ended up on the street is seldom the fault of the homeless person him or herself, the path there leads through a landscape of misfortune and mental anguish few would visit by choice. The romantic notion of the 'gentleman of the road' living happily outside bourgeois conventions is just that; a romantic notion unrelated to reality.

The presence of so many homeless people in Hanley isn't the fault of the council either. On this issue they have tried to stem the tide of misery set loose by five years of ideologically driven assaults on the benefits system.

The blame lies squarely with David Cameron and his government, they have sat back and watched indifferently as vulnerable people have been battered from pillar to post by cuts and benefits sanctions. At the same time they have been aided and abetted by a media all too willing to pump out divisive propaganda that sets 'strivers' against 'skivers.'

Equally culpable are the Labour Party for being too weak and divided to be an effective opposition. Now at last they have a leadership at least willing to admit that free market capitalism isn't the cure for all ills and to, rather timidly, suggest there may be a fairer alternative, but the bitter Blairites on the back benches hamper them at every turn.

The solution is simple, we need to build more social housing and cap excessive rents in the private sector that drive tenants into penury. David Cameron and his country house cabinet would probably dismiss that as woolly idealism and say that market forces have to have their way, even if they drag us all over a cliff in the process.

When Green Party leader Natalie Bennett made this point during the general election the media preferred to focus on the fact that she got some of her figures wrong due to having a heavy cold; to me and, I suspect to people like Danny Flynn who see the consequences of our chronic lack of affordable housing at the sharp end it sounds like common sense.

The trouble is common sense is the first casualty of the dreary squabble amongst members of a distant elite our political discourse has descended into; the tragic outcome of this is more people than ever sleeping rough in a country rich enough to give everyone a bed for the night.

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