Thursday, 5 April 2018

Rough Sleeping Could Stop Tomorrow

The government has committed to ending rough-sleeping by 2027.  Why?  Rough sleeping could be ended tomorrow, why does the government think it can't end it for another decade?  Its as though the government is admitting that it is totally incompetent, and/or simply does not care about people placed in such a desperate situation, many of whom have died over this last Winter, as they have over previous Winters, and as they will continue to do over the next decade, if the Tories have their way.

The Tories are only committing themselves to just halving rough sleeping by 2022.  Both targets are so far away as to be meaningless.  In 2010, by spreading ridiculous stories about catastrophe, to justify their imposition of austerity, the Tories tanked the strong economic recovery that Labour had brought about, following the global financial crash of 2008.  When the Liberal-Tory government actually introduced their first austerity budget, they sent the economy into recession.  The incompetence of the Liberal-Tories was demonstrated by the fact having spread all of these scare stories, which tanked the economy, having talked about what draconian levels of austerity were required, so as to eliminate the budget deficit, their words did not meet their actions.

The austerity measures they introduced, contrary to all of their scare stories, were back loaded.  By 2015, the point at which they were supposed to have eliminated the deficit, not only was the budget deficit still half what it was in 2010, but the Liberal-Tories had only implemented 40%, of the austerity measures they had threatened.  In reality, as I wrote back then, the Liberals had only signed up to the austerity narrative in order to stitch up a deal to get into government with the Tories.  The Liberals had been arguing even as they entered the coalition that the imposition of austerity was crazy, given the early stages of the economic recovery that was taking place and that economic recovery was only taking place, because of the fiscal stimulus that the Labour government, like the governments in the US and elsewhere had implemented.  The Tories too, knew that their stories about catastrophe, about Britain being like Greece, were nonsense too.  Just months before the 2010 election, they had been matching and exceeding Labour's spending commitments.  They changed tack for purely political posturing reasons, having seen the success of right-wing Republicans, in the US, who had adopted such a stance.

The truth is the Tories expected that the economy would continue the strong recovery that had begun under Labour, so that the majority of their austerity measures would never have to be implemented.  That is why, they lumped a huge component of their austerity package on to local government, leaving the majority of the overall austerity measures, and cuts in benefits and tax credits for later.  They were happy to let Tory, and more likely Labour councillors bear the brunt of displeasure for the effects of austerity on crushing local services, caused by cuts in central government funding, a classic example of that tactic being the way they repeatedly attack the NHS in Wales, whose performance is, of course, not in the control of the Labour administration in Cardiff, because of its reliance on Tory controlled funding from Westminster.

When the economy rather than continuing its recovery, in 2010, was sent spiralling down, as a result of the Tory austerity measures, the government was forced to reverse course.  A large part of the central government spending cuts, came in the form of cuts in capital spending programmes.  Again the reason for this was obvious, for a highly political government.  Whilst the cuts in revenue spending to local government, and the devolved assemblies could be blamed on those local and regional governments, and so the government could distance itself from the resulting opprobrium, cuts in capital spending, can largely be merely paper transactions, and in any case, are not immediately apparent to the general public.  The largest part of capital programmes, consists of future commitments, prior to the actual work beginning.  Its possible to cut these proposed spending plans without cutting any actual on going spending on any projects.

But, the Liberal-Tories were so incompetent that the cuts in this capital spending did affect actual existing projects, and projects about to commence.  The classic example was in relation to the Schools budgets, where they came to Parliament several times, with each time a different version of the programme.  A number of sizable companies involved in carrying out the construction and other work associated with these capital spending programmes went bust, and the threat of such large scale austerity measures in relation to capital spending, together with the way the Tory government was talking down the economy, by its apocalyptic stories about impending doom, unless everyone accepted the need for austerity, had already sent the economy into a tailspin.  Again, not surprisingly, the Tories had to change course on their austerity programme for capital spending.  They did so in 2014, and it was only after that that the economy began to slowly recover from the economic stagnation they had self-imposed upon it.

But, the damage had been done.  By cratering the economy during that four years, they had reduced the growth capacity of the economy, structurally, and they had also reduced the tax receipts that would have flowed from a growing economy.  That is why, despite all of the austerity imposed on Local Government, despite the dire warnings of the need for austerity, they failed to achieve their goal of eliminating the budget deficit by 2015, and it is also why they were then forced into a position of having to implement the cuts in central government revenue spending on benefits, tax credits and so on, which they had back loaded into their programme, always with the intention that they would never have to implement them.

The rise in rough sleeping, as with the rise in homelessness, and many of the other problems currently being faced by local government are a direct result of the unnecessary austerity measures that the Liberal-Tories imposed after 2010, and which were only imposed, because the Tories had committed to a ridiculous narrative of impending doom, and debt servitude, for purely political posturing purposes ahead of the 2010 election.  Sound familiar?  It should, because the Liberal-Tories did exactly the same thing in relation to the EU referendum.  Cameron proposed it only for political posturing purposes, believing that he could use it to silence the Euroseptics on his back benches.  They thought that there was no danger that they would even have to call a referendum, because another hung parliament would mean the Liberals would give him cover for not actually calling the referendum, and thy thought that even if they did there was no chance of losing it.  That has been the history of the Liberal-Tories over the last decade of party political posturing for their own ends, which then results in significant economic damage.

The fact is that, if the commitment was there, not just rough-sleeping, but homelessness could be ended in short order.  In WWI and II, the government sequestered land and property to meet its needs; when the government wants to build a motorway, road, or rail line, or other infrastructure, it compulsorily purchases land and property, to make way for it.  There are more than a million empty homes in Britain, many of them are homes owned by Russian oligarchs, and speculators who do not even have any intention of renting them out, simply prepared to obtain large capital gains on them as a result of government policies to inflate asset prices.  If the government had the will, it could requisition these empty homes and put them to use tomorrow, renting them out to homeless families.

But, even without that rough-sleeping could be ended tomorrow.  When I was a County Councillor, I asked why it was that there were hugely expensive pieces of fixed capital owned by the Council that were being very inefficiently used.  Schools are open for just a few hours a day, for only five days a week, and usually for only half of the year.  Why?  At a time of cuts in libraries, why are not the existing school buildings used to also provide library facilities?  After all it is the staff, the books and so on in the library that is the important thing to provide, not the building, as specifically a library building.

And the same thing applies to rough-sleeping.  The real problem with rough-sleeping is contained in the name - sleeping.  It is the problem of people having somewhere safe and comfortable to sleep over night.  Churches and various voluntary organisations do notable work in providing night shelters, and so on, but again, why only provide such dedicated buildings?  The churches themselves are large buildings, spread generously across the country, and not used overnight.  Why not keep the church doors open overnight, and enable rough sleepers to come in?  Similarly, we have schools in every community, with sizeable assembly halls, why not open them, to provide overnight sleeping facilities?  And, the same applies to local councils that have sports centres, with large sports halls that could be opened up after the sports centre has closed, to provide accommodation.

There is more than enough facilities already in the possession of local councils, and various voluntary organisations that could be simply opened up, and made into comfortable, and safe facilities for rough sleepers overnight, and which could also then be a means of social workers, and others providing the required longer term support measures.

Instead of Tory Councils and others threatening to fine or otherwise penalise those very unfortunate enough to find themselves sleeping on the streets, they should act today to end rough-sleeping by simply making efficient use of the very expensive pieces of fixed capital already in their possession, and which we have all paid for in our taxes.  There is no reason whatsoever for rough sleeping not to end tomorrow, and the government's proposals for ending it only in a decades time are a disgrace that should mark it with infamy, for people who claim to be a civilised government, in the 21st century, in what they continually tell us is the world's sixth largest economy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

«There is no reason whatsoever for rough sleeping not to end tomorrow»

Ahem, but how that boost house prices in the south and thus maintain or increase the number of tory voters?
The assumption is that ending rough sleeping is something that most voters, in particular those in marginal seats, care about. Some of my usual quotes, the first from Nick Clegg:>
«Welfare for Osborne was just a bottomless pit of savings, and it didn’t really matter what the human consequences were, because focus groups had shown that the voters they wanted to appeal to were very anti-welfare, and therefore there was almost no limit to those anti-welfare prejudices»

And the second from Ian Duncan-Smith when he resigned as DWP secretary of state because he found the "damn the poor" attitude of the Conservative government too callous:
«He said he resigned because he lost the ability to influence where the cuts will fall, adding: “The truth is yes, we need to get the deficit down, but we need to make sure we widen the scope of where we look to get that deficit down and not just narrow it down on working age benefits ... otherwise it just looks like we see this as a pot of money that it doesn’t matter because they don’t vote for us, and that’s my concern. I think it [the Government] is in danger of drifting in a direction that divides society rather than unites it. And that I think is unfair.”»