More than 1 in 200 Britons are homeless

The countable homeless population of the UK -- the people living on the streets and in shelters, not including people sofa-surfing -- is 307,000, about 1 in 200. In some places, it's as high as one in 27.

The numbers are up across the board, in every region and for every kind of homelessness.

The UK has been a living laboratory for two catastrophic experiments: the first is the deliberate creation of a housing bubble, starting with Thatcher's plan to sell public housing to residents (a generation later, that housing is largely owned by private landlords who charge scorching rents to a new generation of poor people), fuelled by "house-flipper" programmes on public TV, tax breaks for property speculators, artificially low interest rates, lax lending rules, and the dismantling of tenancy protections.

The other experiment has been running for only a decade: the Tory austerity experiment, which hypothesised that the reason people took public assistance was that they were insufficiently motivated to work -- and not that wages were too low, and housing too expensive, to make ends meet. A cruel decade later, and one in 200 people are now homeless, unable to find higher paying work and lower rents.

Shelter is a human necessity, like food, water, and air. Treat it like an asset at your peril. Governments like to increase the price of assets. Societies suffer when housing prices go up.

Shelter warned earlier this year that more than a million households are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020. Rising numbers of families on low incomes are struggling to pay even the lowest available private sector rents in many areas, leading to ever higher levels of eviction and homelessness.

It calls for more genuinely affordable homes to be built, an end to the local housing allowance freeze, and measures to increase security for tenants in the private sector.

A National Audit Office inquiry in September criticised the government for failing to get a grip on homelessness, despite recorded numbers rising every year since 2010. It said local housing allowance cuts helped fuel the crisis, which costs the taxpayer about £1bn a year. A DCLG spokesperson said: “We are determined to tackle all forms of homelessness, which includes making sure people in temporary accommodation are getting support to keep a roof over their heads.

One in every 200 people in UK are homeless, according to Shelter [Patrick Butler/The Guardian]

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