Homelessness is often used to gaslight foreigners and people fleeing war as less important than ‘our own’. I have even heard people in my own group of friends say we should look after our own homeless before migrants. Let us explore key areas that uncomfortably identify drivers for both cost and scarcity of housing.
EU exodus frees 50,000 properties
According to Bloomberg, we lost 200,000 people who returned to Europe as a result of Brexit. Even if in all cases these were couples with two children then that should have freed up 50,000 ‘sets of accommodation’ suitable for families.
The English Housing Survey 2018-19 shows a staggering 495,000 second homes in the UK. This should be a real wakeup call. Second homes kill communities in often poor areas, leaving many properties empty during the week. Second homes push up prices making properties unattainable for locals. The 495,000 tally excludes those 378,000 second homes abroad, where similar damage is done. Due to tax incentives the affluent parts of our community are pushing up prices by double digits, eliminating the opportunity for many to own or even rent a home.
According to Yourmoney.com, Airbnb (and holiday letting in general) has put pressure on the rental market. Properties such as apartments and smaller houses that were previously affordable have become too expensive for people to rent. They are often run as businesses that attract tax benefits. It is not so easy to identify how many are ‘lost homes’ with Airbnb properties rising from 76,000 in 2016 to over 250,000 today. Some are traditional B&B businesses or pubs, but the number can be expected to be several tens of thousands of additional houses lost to families.
How many people are homeless?
The last official data advised that of the 66.7 million people in the UK, close to 100,000 people are regarded as homeless.
Rough sleepers are counted as a specific and separate group and their existence is often given as a reason ‘not to allow foreigners in’. As the chart below shows, since 2010 the official number of rough sleepers has increased considerably to over 4,000 by 2017. There was a reduction with the “Everyone In” campaign to get homeless off the streets at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020: a place to stay was provided for 37,000 homeless people. However by August 2020, Shelter was reporting that many (77%) were still in temporary accommodation or may even be back on the streets.
Homelessness can be fixed
We have had low unemployment in the UK for many years and even before Brexit we had significant worker shortfalls, but many people remain a hostage to low wages. Prior to Brexit “UK economy has outperformed (marginally) some of our European neighbours”, yet in 2021 according to Reuters, “Sluggish UK economy falls behind the G7 pack again”. Benefit changes and a refusal to control low wages led to more people struggling to afford spiralling accommodation costs, resulting in them ending up homeless.
Houses are being ‘stolen’ from the market: if we moved to tax second homes and ensured there were cost penalties for taking properties away from use for traditional housing then we could end the housing crisis and help fund new social housing construction. A sufficiently tough tax regime would also help keep house prices lower by reducing demand for second houses. One reason that ending homelessness is not palatable in this way is many wealthy people have multiple homes and these are key donors to the various political parties. An easing of the punitive benefits system would also reduce poverty-based homelessness as would an improvement in social housing availability.
As the homeless crisis continues, action is needed now.