The broke and the broken

Followers of our twitter feed will know that a great deal of what we post details the growth and intensification of poverty and inequality in Britain. This is because there is a raft of evidence, produced every day, of an inexorable decline in living standards, including news that life expectancy is now falling. It is right that we post these facts, because Hope is a charity built around poverty, including offering services that ameliorate its worst manifestations, above all, homelessness and lack of food, and people should know why these problems exist.

As a charity we provide services to help people, but we also speak up about the causes of poverty and how they can be challenged.

The broke:  In Northamptonshire, we are witnessing the collapse of the County Council, an organisation in which years ago I proudly worked as a commissioner of services for community development and substance misuse. Its decline is a tragic spectacle, brought on by a mixture of lack of central government funding and local mismanagement. I don’t envy elected members. Managing with money is challenging; managing without, with limited experience of running such large, complex organisations, is really hard. However the cuts proposed are truly staggering, and scary, ideological, and they will bring immense harm to local people and the most vulnerable. Written into them is a simply absurd suggestion that the voluntary sector will pick up the pieces, and help those individuals the state will no longer help. Underfunded for years, with challenges of recruiting volunteers borne down by the pressures in their lives, this just will not happen. This is an attempt to recast the local state to an almost pre Victorian pattern where charity would do the work instead of them. It is a truly terrifying vision of a shrunken state where only charity is between people and the grave.

And the broken?  As well as local government, which beyond Northamptonshire is close to collapse, the housing system is now reaching a point of no return. The regulated social rented sector – councils, ALMOs, TMOs and housing associations – has a stock of housing far too small to meet demand. Accordingly, people are being turned away and told to access the private rented sector. The trouble is, as twitter feed readers know, is that a lot of private landlords are quite simply awful. They evict people with no notice, go round and break or walk in, keep their properties in an awful state, reduce the rent if sexual favours are available, and raise the rent to unaffordable levels. Evictions from the sector are now the major cause of homelessness, and this is not for people with ‘issues’, it’s ordinary working families.  Rents have risen 60% whilst wages have risen 10%. It can’t go on. Your and my children will live in a world where a recent survey showed after rent and bills, a third of private renters had £23 a week to live on[1]. The private rental sector simply cannot replace state managed social rent housing, without massive levels of controls and regulation. The system, and its values, is completely out of control. And this causes homelessness, debt, addiction and mental ill-health.

But don’t worry, the charitable sector will pick up the slack ………