This week, Crisis, the British homelessness charity, issued a study which blames rising levels of homelessness across the UK on the stagnant economy and the coalition government’s welfare cuts. The in-depth report also warns that the alarming trend could "bring the scenario of middle-class homelessness that much closer." The report has led to a swath of headlines in the media fearing that respectable middle-classes could be forced onto the streets.
The middle-class, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the country according to a BritainThinks poll, has lost the most during the economic downturn. Its members are neither poor enough to benefit from welfare, nor wealthy enough to be free of the recession’s effects. Furthermore, they have seen the value of their assets plummet, while their hard-earned savings have evaporated.
But, it is low-income families that are suffering the most from the economic crisis and welfare cuts. Despite the downturn, middle Britons are more likely to throw a street party than find themselves sleeping on the streets.
The statistics presented in the study are both disturbing and undeniable. Last year, the number of people officially recognized as homeless spiked 10 percent from the previous year, which is the first increase in homelessness in a decade. This rise is startling enough, yet this statistic neglects another 189,000 who have been placed in temporary accommodation, as well as the ‘hidden homeless’ who live in overcrowded accommodations and rough sleepers who fall below the statistical radar.
Behind the headlines, however, the Guardian’s report of the study gives no evidence that the proportion of middle-class made homeless has gone up, or that a study into the socio-economic backgrounds of the homeless in Britain has been carried out.
According to Crisis, the erosion of the welfare safety net by the government presents a threat to the middle-class, but, the better-off members of the middle-class have their own financial safety net in place. The Times recently reported that the middle-classes have been the ‘hardest hit’ by the economic downturn because they spend more money filling their cars up with gas, buying luxury groceries, and commuting from the suburbs to the city for work – all of which have seen dramatic price hikes over the past two years and are set to continue to rise.
Although it isn’t easy, the middle-class has the luxury to sacrifice non-essentials and adapt their lifestyles in times of financial difficulty – as many have been forced to do – long before they lose their homes. This is not an option for low-income families, the elderly, sick and vulnerable, and the unemployed, who rely directly on the welfare safety net that is being unravelled by the thread.
Nevertheless, the economic crisis has proven that the middle-classes are not completely protected against financial difficulty. There are examples of educated professionals who have lost their jobs and subsequently claimed housing benefits or became homeless. Although concerning and indicative of a potentially growing trend, these cases are not representative of Britain’s homeless, the majority of whom are foreign migrants in London.
The fears that homelessness will become widespread among the middle class seem somewhat far-fetched; however, the warning issued by Crisis will be productive if it spurs the government into action and encourage it to make good on its promise to build 80,000 affordable homes by 2015. By raising the threat of homelessness among modern conservatism’s key support base, the middle-class, hopefully the report will prompt the government to make a concerted effort to help victims of homelessness across the country, irrespective of socio-economic background.
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