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The Socio-economic Issue of Homelessness in The United Kingdom

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Homelessness in the UK

Homelessness, as a socio-economic issue, has been prevalent in much of humanities history and continues to present itself as an issue to this day, with many economically thriving western cities still experiencing this problem. In the UK, homelessness can be seen in many large towns and cities with numerous causes being citied such as: inequality, lack of affordable housing and the lures of crime and drugs. This report will examine in detail these causes and the steps that the British government have taken to classify and rectify the age old issue of homelessness.


First and foremost it is pertinent to define homelessness as it presents itself in the modern day. Homelessness, in its absolute simplest form is defined as having no official or legally backed permanent residence or place to stay and is therefore often found to be synonymous with ‘sleeping rough’ (Polakow and Guillean 2001). In the UK however there are five tests in which a person must pass in order to be qualified as officially homeless according to the social housing register, these tests are as follows:

  • Is the person intentionally homeless?
  • Is the person eligible for assistance?
  • Does the person have a local connection?
  • Is the person homeless?
  • Is the person in a priority need?

Causes of Homelessness

The causes of homelessness are often linked to many socio-economic obstacles and are often rooted deeply into various social groups, often the most vulnerable and less-affluent, homelessness can also effect more transitory communities and groups more adversely such as immigrants and refugees (DeVerteuil 2011). At a glance, homelessness is often viewed as a purely economic circumstance with: joblessness, poor education and class based struggles being cited as the main causes of homelessness. However there are a myriad of different causes that can be linked to homelessness, first and foremost are the social issues, drug use and crime have been linked due to the strains they can place not only on a person’s mental and physical wellbeing but the severe economic strain that can lead to losing one’s home or career (Fitzpatrick et al 2011).

Several studies have also linked institutional woes to homelessness such as serving time in a correctional facility or being in social care as a child, many former soldiers and other armed-forces employees have been found to have a higher chance of ending up homelessness once again due to mental strain that these events can have on a person’s mental wellbeing (Del Casino Jr and Jocoy 2008). Many modern studies have additionally placed a lens on the mental and psychoanalytical factors which can lead to poor mental health and conversely the eventual fall into homelessness. These studies have found many key signifiers in their subject’s minds which have been found to increase the likelihood of being homeless, these signifiers include: addictive personality traits often found to be related to drug use or excess ‘crime addiction’, systemic damage done from a lengthy childhood of abuse or neglect has also been found to increase the chances of being homeless (Kearns 1994).

Strategies to Combat Homelessness

Many of the previous British governments have taken various steps and strategies to reduce homelessness and are often similar in their efforts to combat the root causes. Drug use and classification have been cited to increase the likelihood of an individual becoming homeless and as such have seen many overhauls in both the punishment and care presented to those who engage with drugs, more specifically, cannabis has been reclassified twice in the past decade, downgraded from B to C in 2004 and then upgraded back to B in 2009 (Gov. 2016). An increase in the available social care for the homeless has been encouraged by previous governments, however little legislation has been passed to actually combat the core problem itself other than various classification acts such as the 2002 and 2004 homeless acts. It has therefore fallen upon various non-profit charities and social care groups to provide food and shelter for the homeless such as Crisis and Shelter both respectively operate in the UK with aims to help rehouse the homeless and present employment opportunities where available (DeVerteuil et al 2009).

Geographical Spread

Homelessness in the UK has a distinct uneven spread with most cases of homelessness being reported in large towns and cities as opposed to rural areas however homelessness is still nevertheless reported in rural areas with high property prices being cited as the primary cause (Cloke et al 2010). This is the general rule with homelessness as rural areas are usually more affluent especially in developed nations where suburbanisation and rural migration have taken place. Cities also often struggle with homing its less affluent citizens due to land restrictions and high levels of gentrification taking place especially near the CBD so this in turn can lead to a lack of social housing and therefore an increase in homelessness (May and Cloke 2014). A significant north-south divide can be seen in the UK where higher levels of homelessness can be observed in the Northern cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. This divide can be attributed to the previous industrialised nature of these cities and their former reliance on by-gone industries such as mining and manufacturing, most of which were outsourced during the Thatcher government in the 1980’s (Hudson 2013). However a significant amount of homelessness is concentrated in London primarily due to its position as the capital of the UK and also the largest population centre and employer.

Homelessness Act 2002/2004

]The homelessness act of 2002 has significantly shaped the way in which local councils and governmental bodies deal with homelessness, the act itself broadly states that local authorities have a duty of care to house or relocate those who are, or, will become homeless within 28 days. There are some exceptions to this act however, these include: the person in question must be a citizen of the UK and also must have been born in the UK, the person must also be in ‘priority need’ of assistance and or rehousing, special allowances will be made for those who are deemed more vulnerable such as the very young or old and those who are pregnant or have some medically recognised disability (Gov. 2002/2004) . The overall success of the act has been debated with many citing the low number of homeless individuals being housed, many local councils cite low levels of housing and housing be constructed as the reasons behind such low housing statistics.

Homelessness is an issue that will likely continue to be present in the UK unless the core causes are tackled by real sweeping legislation and enforcement upon local councils to provide for its citizens whether they be homeless or not. However it is critical to view homelessness in all its facets and not just purely a consequence of economic inequalities.

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