There may have been a time when homelessness seemed like a problem that other people worried about. But times have certainly changed.
A new survey out today reveals that nearly half the population is actively concerned about keeping a roof over their heads during 2009. And there’s surprising consistency between people in all types of housing. For instance 44 percent of mortgage holders are worried about being able to meet their payments over the next 12 months, only just under the 47 percent of Local Authority and Housing Association tenants who say they are also worried. And you don’t have to be a council tenant or own your own home to be concerned about making ends meet, because the same polling suggests that over two fifths (41 percent) of private renters are also worried about keeping a roof over their heads.
This latest YouGov polling was commissioned as part of a report that I’ve issued today called ‘The New Homeless’, which seeks to understand how the prospect of homelessness now transcends virtually every socio-economic group in Britain.
Of course people will rightly ask two questions. How did we get here? And what should be done now?
The credit crunch and recession are well documented, but a point which has yet to be fully recognised is that personal debt got out of control largely because Gordon Brown took the decision in 1997 to remove the Bank of England’s responsibility to "call time" on banks who over-lent, even when they didn’t have the resources to back their loans. Since no one else was handed this regulatory responsibility, competition between lenders for who could expand their loan book the fastest exploded. The result was massive personal debt which aspiring home owners felt pressured to rack up simply in order to buy somewhere to live. Loose credit meant that houses became overvalued.
Having helped to create the credit boom, the question is what the government should be doing now? Having allowed personal debt to explode through easy credit, the government is now busily orchestrating a boom in the national debt. This money will have to be paid back through higher taxes which will kick in just as the economy struggles to recover.
The net result is that the hard working families who will tonight go to bed worrying about the prospect of paying their housing costs over the next 12 months, will continue to suffer later on and just as the economy does eventually start to recover from this downturn, personal taxes will rise and so today’s policy mistake could mean that the spectre of the New Homeless may well be with us for a long time.
The government will have therefore played a significant role in increasing personal debt and then compounded the problem by letting public debt let rip.
Grant Shapps is the shadow Housing Minister