23 Sep 2010

Welfare: an extra terrestrial view

Were I a Martian hack visiting earth, what would I detect to be the lead story? Internationally, undoubtedly Earth’s inability to feed itself. Domestically, the lead story in Britain would almost certainly have to be the reality that well into the 21 Century, Britain is unable to house its people. Some five million are currently “under-housed” – homeless, squatting with relatives, crammed into overcrowded or substandard housing.

The National Housing Federation reckons that this year fewer than 100,000 new homes will be built. A figure even worse than Labour’s outgoing record of 120,000 homes built – the worst figure since 1922.

In my spare time, as regular Snowbloggers will know, I chair the New Horizon Youth Centre – a drop-in day centre for homeless and vulnerable teenagers in Central London, where I worked for three years as director before becoming a hack.
We are feeling the pressure. We are finding more and more students, and working youngsters who simply cannot find accommodation.

The old resources are taking in people further up the food chain, pushing still more of the very neediest out from the bottom. For those at the very bottom, depressed, often penniless, and in need, there is virtually nothing.

We are seeing some 3,000 young people a year at the centre, our outreach teams reach many more.  Fifty to 60 a day come to the centre who need the rudimentary human resource of a place to lay their heads.

This morning I listened to the Coalition Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith talking about welfare reforms. Seeing him one senses he is already in a coalition with himself. A man who has made the journey from the right of the right, to the political mainstream and life with the Liberal Democrats.

We live in troubled times. There is no money and great need.

There is a month to go to the Spending Review on 20 October. Until the deed is done, there is great anxiety that the baby will be thrown out with the welfare bathwater.

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