A few days ago, housing charity Shelter posted this on their Facebook page:
A worrying statistic, I'm sure most would agree. And what's even more worrying, is how this figure has increased over the years.
Yet, more worrying still, is the response from the public about this.
When releasing this information, Shelter use the statutory definition of homelessness, under the Housing Act 1996 as follows:
s.175 Homelessness and threatened homelessness.
(1)A person is homeless if he has no accommodation available for his occupation, in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, which he--
(a) is entitled to occupy by virtue of an interest in it or by virtue of an order of a court,
(b) has an express or implied licence to occupy, or
(c) occupies as a residence by virtue of any enactment or rule of law giving him the right to remain in occupation or restricting the right of another person to recover possession.
(2) A person is also homeless if he has accommodation but--
(a) he cannot secure entry to it, or
(b) it consists of a moveable structure, vehicle or vessel designed or adapted for human habitation and there is no place where he is entitled or permitted both to place it and to reside in it.
(3) A person shall not be treated as having accommodation unless it is accommodation which it would be reasonable for him to continue to occupy.
(4) A person is threatened with homelessness if it is likely that he will become homeless within 28 days.
Examples of what this covers are set out on Shelter's website here:
Suffice it to say, living on the streets is homelessness. But so is having been served an eviction notice, legally or illegally. Being under threat of house repossession for failing to pay your mortgage; living under the threat of domestic violence; being unable for whatever reason to afford your rent; living in temporary accommodation, and various other reasons all satisfy the legal definition of homelessness.
After all, a home is not just a roof under which you may sleep, but a place of permanent residence with stability and security, such as may be offered these days.
One thing the last few years has shown is that generation rent has led to greater insecurity in rented accommodation, and an increase in instability. Extortionate fees, shorter fixed-term tenancies which can be terminated with a no-fault s.21 Notice with one month's notice, decreasing work security and zero-hours contracts, all have their part to play. The shortage of affordable housing, pricing first time buyers out of the market and forcing them into a life of renting, thus depriving them of the ability to save deposits because rents are so high mean that more and more people are renting.
This isn't breaking news. But it isn't getting better either. Although, the recent commitment of the Tories to ban letting agent fees is a very positive step in the right direction.
But the fundamental truth of renting, is that it is very expensive. Landlords frequently defend this claim by asserting that they have debts, they make little profit from renting and other such excuses. I can't speak for the nature of any landlord's debts, but I will suggest that the very fact of being a property owner, and often property owners with multiple properties, is by its very definition evidence that landlords are far wealthier and in a far more powerful position than ANY tenant - who would quite likely decide, if they were able - to buy a house that's theirs rather than plough years and years of income into a landlord's pockets with zero return.
As there are now many more renters out there, it stands to reason that landlords not only control a lucrative market, but that they can cherry-pick from the vast supply of needy tenants the ones they feel to be the best fit for their needs. And the upshot of this is that many tenants find themselves literally begging and pleading and doing anything they can to secure a home. It renders them subservient to the landlord's - often although not always intentional - oppressive whims, because to upset the landlord can so swiftly result in eviction.
I know this as a fact. It has happened to me.
Having "upset" my last landlord for complaining in quite reasonable terms about three incidents of unlawful behaviour, we were evicted. The council's final response to this, despite supporting our complaints fully, was that we made ourselves intentionally homeless as a result of complaining. Which means that whilst the council may agree that the landlord is behaving unlawfully, they may not always have your back when it comes to you needing some help.
That aside, the figures presented by Shelter bother me, but they do not surprise me.
What DID surprise me, was the response that Shelter got from the public when sharing this information. It was quite literally a shameful and depressing sight.
There were of course, people defending Shelter, and speaking sense. It would be a disservice to the public as a whole to not mention this. There were some very compassionate, understanding and decent people on that thread. But it seemed to me, that the majority of voices were slamming Shelter, slamming the figures, and making tenuous and pointless links to immigration figures.
Here's a few of the ones that I personally found most troubling (and as depressing as that prospect may seem, I truly would encourage you to read them - I know we've all seen this kind of hatred online, but they really do lay the foundational context in which this blog post is made):
I hope you agree that some of those comments are a dire reflection of how people feel towards others, and of the sheer ignorance out there.
One of the comments that bothers me most is the one that runs: I wish their parents would WAKE UP, stop taking drugs or alcohol and look after their offspring.
Anybody who believes that the parents of all 120,000 children currently registered as homeless are drug-abusing alcoholics neglecting their children is so misinformed as to be utterly poisonous. This is an entirely loathsome and ignorant thing to say and it disgusts me.
But people seem to genuinely believe that "charity begins at home". And to me, this is a stupid phrase. Elevating the priority of a person's needs because they are from the same country, is equal to devaluing the needs of people who are equally needy. There is nothing compassionate or charitable about that in the slightest. It suggests that you're happy for some to suffer as long as they are from another country.
And besides, the problems with housing in this country are so complex that they cannot be sensibly reduced to one argument alone; the one concerning immigration.
As I say: charity does not begin at home. Charity begins in the heart, and to devalue the needs of anyone in need is not charitable, and it is not compassionate.
We should show compassion for ALL in need. 120,000 technically homeless children is appalling by any standards. And the fact that is has increased by so much in two years is very worrying indeed.
The fact of the matter is this: renting in this country is so problematic, that next Christmas, it could be your children.