Real life in Britain

Richard Bos Richard.Bos at
Thu Sep 19 14:18:04 MDT 1996

Dear all

Sometimes it is easy to get locked into theoretical arguements and lose
perspective of why we are fighting to change the rotten system we live

This piece in the New Worker is a good feet on the ground putter!

by Caroline Colebrook

AROUND a quarter of a million young people were homeless in Britain at
some stage last year, according to a report published last Monday.
 It was commissioned by ten charities and headed by Andrew
Whitham-Smith, former editor of the Independent and took a year to
 Homeless young people live in squats, bed and breakfast hotels and
friends' floors. Many are forced to sleep on the streets.
 It is a life-style full of risks. According to a survey conducted by
the Big Issue, around 60 percent of homeless people are physically
assaulted on the streets.
 The homeless keep the accident and emergency services of many hospitals
busier than other sections of the population and their major cause of
injury is assault.
 But they rarely seek legal redress. Often their relations with the
police are not good and as one injured youngster put it: "If I get a
black eye, in five days it will be gone. If I press charges, in five
months I'll still be waiting to go to court."
 Few can plan ahead for five months, surviving from day to day is their
main concern. And it is not easy for people with no fixed abode to
pursue a court case -- they have nowhere to receive correspondence.
 They are also more at risk from disease. There has been a 20 per cent
rise in tuberculosis in Britain since 1987 and most victims are
 Young homeless people are more at risk of seeking escape through drink
and drugs are pressured into prostitution and petty crime to make a
living. A third of homeless people have been asked to consider
 They can come from any walk of life, but those who have been in local
authority care are over represented since they cannot fall back on their
families in time of crisis.
 In 1990 around 13,000 young people aged 17 or under ran away from care.
 One young man from Devon left foster care to take a job in another part
of the county. An injury left him with a fractured skull so he returned
to the town where he had been nine years in care for recuperation.
 But he was too old now and not eligible for child care. But being under
18 at the time, he was not eligible for benefit -- but in any case he
knew nothing of his benefit rights or how to claim. So he ended up
sleeping rough on the moors and dossing down in friends' houses.
 The report found that the problem, once confined to the streets of
London and other big cities, is now growing in rural areas.
 It calls for the restoration of benefit rights to those under 18 and
for improved family mediation services. There are 50,000 homeless 16-19
year olds in Britain.

 Many youngsters, even from privileged families, feel they have to leave
home because of neglect, stress, bullying, physical assault and sexual
 The report argues that the government would in the long-term save
millions of pounds in taxpayers' money by taking measures to prevent
homelessness and all the problems that arise from it.
 There is air, a desperate need for decent affordable rented
accommodation. Currently in Britain there are 1.4 million fewer rented
homes than in 1981.
 Local authorities are forbidden now by law from building new council
homes. Housing associations are trying to meet the needs but are
inadequately funded. The government has recently severely curtailed
their funding.
 And as they operate in the private sector, they are vulnerable to going
bankrupt if they do not charge an economic rent.
 Some private landlords are honest but others are not. The government
estimated last year that private landlords defrauded taxpayers of some
£2 billion in benefits.
 The situation is likely to worsen as the new Housing Act comes into
force. This will cut the amount of housing benefit available to
 They will get only benefit equal to the cost of a bedsit or shared
accommodation, with a ceiling of about £30 a week. If such accommodation
cannotbe found, they will become homeless.
 Most rented accommodation available in the capital costs more than £60
a week.
 Now Britain has the second highest homeless population within the
European Community..
But this is likely to swell even further, both by the Housing Act and
the Immigration and Asylum Act -- which denies all benefits to refugees
seeking asylum.


      New Worker Online

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