Homelessness: A Crisis?

In 2018, 320,000 people were homeless in the UK- a rise in 4%. Out of these people, 726 people died. These are unnecessary deaths in one of the wealthiest and developed countries in the world. A country that should be able to accommodate everyone. Whilst homeless has decreased in countries like Finland, who are aiding the crisis, it is increasing in the UK. Since 2010, under a Conservative government, homelessness has almost doubled what it was under the Labour party. So what causes homelessness and how can it be prevented?

According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Social Work, homelessness is when a person “lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, and if they sleep in a shelter designated for temporary living accommodations or in places not designated for human habitation”. It could be someone living on the street, couch surfing or in temporary accommodation. It can be caused by a multitude of personal and political issues. Some examples of personal issues include mental and physical health, relationship problems or addiction can lead to homelessness. Examples of political issues include a lack of affordable housing and help services.

Mental well-being describes how you are feeling and how well you cope on a day to day basis. It’s dynamic ability means that it can at any time. Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. The common problems include anxiety and depression. This makes these individuals become vulnerable. They often cannot sustain employment which leads to a little income. This can, as a result, lead to homelessness due to not being able to keep up with household bills. Over 40% of those who end up homeless have suffered with a mental health issue. However, mental health issues can be supported with services. Counselling, as an example, enables people to talk about their health problems and be able to take steps to overcoming them. Unfortunately, there is a long waiting list for these services on the NHS. As a result of this, before being able to seek help, people end up homeless.

Another personal issue that could lead to homelessness is physical health problems. Those who are disabled in some form or another do not always get the help that they require. Moreover, as biased and prejudiced as it is, employers are more likely to employ someone in a better physical condition than someone who is not. Lack of support in conjunction with a lack of employment can lead to homelessness.

In addition to this, relationship problems can lead to homelessness. Someone that is perhaps in an abusive relationship may have to leave their home so that they can flee this abuse. Whilst people could seek help from other family members, there is a lot of stigma around the term ‘homeless’ which may lead to people not seeking help. In addition to this, young people may end up homeless by abuse in the home or even being disowned by their family for reasons such as teenage pregnancy. This leaves them in a vulnerable position as they are not old enough to know what to do. In fact, early, traumatic experiences such as these can lead them to addiction. By becoming addicted, any money that they do have will probably be spent on drugs or alcohol as a form of escapism. In a study carried out in 2013, 43% of people who slept rough for the first time has problems with alcohol or drug use. It allows them to escape from reality for some time. However when it wears off, they are smacked in the face with reality. This then leads to a vicious cycle of drug and alcohol abuse.

Austerity is the main political issue that leads to homelessness. It is a political term which refers to the policies that aim to reduces government budget deficits through spending cuts, tax increase or a combination of both. Major budget cuts to the NHS and social services have led to people not receiving the care that they need unless they seek private health care. People with mental or physical health issues, abuse or addiction are unable to seek the help that they need. By having these personal issues, they will not have the ability to pay for their housing or increased taxes, never mind their health care which they should receive on the NHS. This means that they will have no choice but to become homeless as they cannot afford to live in a house and pay their bills. Whilst there are many charities that help the homeless like The Salvation Army and Porchlight, they do not have the facilities or funding to be able to help everyone.

The UK has been rated 20th out of the 28 EU states for adequate housing. Perhaps, as a nation, we should try and start learning from other states. Finland, as a prime example, has seen a 50% drop in homeless people since 1980. This has been due to the Housing First Scheme where the state, municipalities, NGOs and volunteers have been all working together to reduce homelessness. It is guided by the notion that having a place to live is a basic human right. Before, homeless people had to prove that they were abstaining from intoxicants before being given housing. This would leave them in a vicious circle. However, now, they are given the chance to get their life back together by having a roof over their heads. Lots of affordable housing became constructed so that the availability of housing increase in Finland. This was because the housing in Finland was either too large and expensive or privately owned. It is predicted that housing one long term homeless person actually saves about 15,000 euros of society’s funds per year. This is due to less money being needed for the services required when that person was homeless. This means that if the UK adopt the same strategy, in the long term, we will save money.

In summary, the UK needs to act fast if they are going to solve the homeless crisis. As years go on with nothing being done, more people are forced onto the streets or to temporary accommodation. This, in effect, leads to more mental health issues and addiction which puts a further strain on the NHS. If the UK act, by creating affordable homes and giving more funding to the NHS, then the figure of homeless people on the streets and deaths of homeless people on the streets will decrease.

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