Homelessness In Wales

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Yn Gymraeg

Why Is Homelessness In Wales Such A Problem?

The purpose of this investigation is to look at homelessness in Wales, and decide why it is such a problem.

Whilst I recognise this particular topic is not unique, I decided to conduct an investigation as I feel it is an issue.

It is impossible to go to an urban area in Wales without stumbling upon a person who appears to be homeless, and to many people it can be emotionally upsetting.

Recently, a documentary aired which showed an entire family spending Christmas on the streets because they were homeless. As I feel strongly about this issue I decided to take the opportunity to study homelessness in Wales and the reasons as to why it appears such a problem.

I chose the title Why Is Homelessness In Wales Such A Problem? for a number of reasons. Firstly, it allows me to investigate why it is a problem, and also to compare the issue with another area and decide if something needs to be done about it.

To answer the question I must firstly decide on what homelessness is. I will then look at why it is or is not such a problem depending on my findings, and provide solutions. I will then come to a conclusion and evaluate the successfulness of this investigation.

In order to produce a reliable and insightful investigation, accurate information will need to be obtained and evaluated, and therefore a mixture of both primary and secondary sources will be used. I intend to carry out a questionnaire to see how aware people are of the issue, and to provide the foundations of a firm investigation.

I will begin by describing what is meant by the term ‘homelessness’.

Wikipedia describes homelessness as “the condition and social category of people who have no fixed abode”. This simply means that they do not hold residence in a house. The term may also include people whose night time residence is in a shelter, which is an institution that provides a temporary residence for people intended to be institutionalised, or in a public or private place not designed for use as a regular sleeping accommodation.

There are many reasons as to why a person many be homeless. Maybe they cannot afford, or are otherwise unable to maintain, regular, safe, and adequate shelter. However, not all homeless people are homeless for this reason. A small number of people choose to be homeless, such as Romani people, more commonly referred to as Gypsies.

Some members of some subcultures also chose to be homeless. It is estimated that there are 100 million people worldwide that are homeless.

So this is the definition, but why is it such a problem in Wales? The National Assembly For Wales figures show that the number of recorded homeless people in Wales is continuing to grow.

Shelter Cymru, an organisation that provides shelter for homeless people, estimated that at least 50,000 people experience homelessness in Wales every year. A survey carried out by Shelter Cymru in 1995 stated that the number of households needing accommodation in Wales is expected to increase by 12% between 1996 and 2016.

Wales also has the worst housing conditions in the UK, with an estimated 225,000 people living in unfit accommodation.

People who are homeless lack basic human necessities such as good healthcare, medication and medical services. As they have no fixed address they are unable to find work, and without a form of income are unable to afford to rent a property, and so are in effect stuck in the cycle of homelessness. (No job = no money = no accommodation, no accommodation = no fixed address = inability to get work).

Wales is made up mainly of rural areas, but has some large industrial areas, mainly in South Wales. The traditional heavy industries such as coal and steel have declined sharply since the 1980s, and this has resulted in a significant rise in unemployment.

To add to this, problems in the agricultural industry have also affected unemployment rates. This is one of the many causes of homelessness as people are forced to move out onto the streets under the rising pressure of household bills that they are unable to pay, such as mortgages and electricity bills, and with the credit crunch kicking in homelessness is expected to increase rapidly within the next couple of years.

People seeking accommodation under their local councils in Wales can be expected to wait for an average of four years before accommodation is offered to them, and due to these long waiting lists many people become homeless in the meantime. As they have no way of being contacted, most people will not receive housing from the council if it becomes available.

So, the most common causes of homelessness are structural factors such as the housing market and poverty, affecting the ability of individuals to find their own solutions to overcome it. Increased housing prices means there has been increased demand for affordable housing, causing more people to become homeless.

This is believed by Shelter Cymru to be the main problem, as they argue that the high cost of home-buying and the lack of affordable rented accommodation have contributed to the rise.

Other causes of homelessness include the results of crises such as fire or flood, or some personal crisis, an example of which is teenage runaways who for personal reasons runaway from home and end up sleeping rough.

Eighteen to 20 year-olds formerly in care usually seek housing and can become homeless, as well as those vulnerable because of domestic violence, and ex-military staff or former prisoners.

Addictions to drugs, including being an alcoholic, can also add to homelessness as the person can spend all of their money on that addiction. Also, as these alter the person’s personality and awareness, they may not be able to find work. If a person is living in rented accommodation and gets caught in possession of drugs they will be evicted.

These causes of homelessness that have been discussed however do not reflect the causes by lack of help or services. Welsh Lib Dem social justice spokesman Peter Black said that, “Most of the causes of this increase in homelessness are economic, specifically rising house prices, and a shortage of social housing,” and that 40,000 people had presented themselves to local councils for help.

He said that one of the reasons homelessness is caused is because councils do not have the facilities to deal with it, as he was quoted saying, “”However, I am not convinced that local councils are investing in facilities to deal with it, whilst the assembly government is failing to provide the resources needed to build new homes.”

This shows that he believes local councils and the assembly government are partly responsible as they have no services in place to prevent homelessness. The following list is just an outline of a few of these causes:

  • Result of a personal crisis
  • Problems in agricultural industry
  • Lack of help or services
  • Addictions
  • Housing market
  • Poverty
  • The economic recession
  • Decline of traditional heavy industries
  • Increasing house prices
  • Unemployment

I will now look at the issue in England and see how big a problem it is there, and if it is more or less of a problem than in Wales.

In England, the number of households officially recognised as newly homeless in the 2007 statistics were 99,500. One hundred thousand households were officially recognised as newly homeless by their local authority in 2007, and of these households half were listed as being ‘in priority need’ and accepted by local authorities as being entitled to and in need of accommodation.

Whilst these figures show that homelessness in England is an issue, the numbers have fallen sharply and are half what they were in 2004, and are lower than what they were ten years ago.

This, coupled with our knowledge that Wales has the worst housing conditions in Great Britain, and our knowledge that homelessness is rising in Wales, is effective in showing how much of an issue homelessness is in Wales. It would therefore be a valid statement to claim that the problem of homelessness in Wales is more of an issue than it is in England.

So, if homelessness is such a problem why has so little been done to prevent it and why is there so little support available for homeless people? The fact remains that people simply aren’t aware that homelessness is such a problem.

In a survey I recently conducted, eight out of ten people said that they didn’t think homelessness is much of a problem, and one person said that they thought it was only increasing in urban Wales. Five people said that their opinions on homelessness had changed as they found it to be a bigger problem than expected.

When asked the causes of homelessness, a multitude of different answers occurred, the main being drug abuse. As this is the only cause people agreed on, this shows that people believe drug abuse to be the main cause of homelessness in Wales.

When asked how many people in Wales were made homeless each year the answer varied from 100 to 3,000,000, showing no one had a clear idea of the actual figure. The majority were surprised as they did not realise the figure was so high.

The survey results are effective in showing that people do not know enough about homelessness to consider it an issue, and this shows that people are not informed as they should be, probably because it does not receive much media coverage.

Whilst there is plenty on the topic readily available to them on the internet, not many people read this information. It is hardly surprising that there are few charities to prevent homelessness, and that these do not receive many donations.

So what can be done to solve the problem? There is no rapid action that can be taken overnight to solve the problem, and no matter what actions are taken there will always be some level of homelessness in Wales.

The only way is to cause a change in the pattern so that homelessness either begins to decrease or stands halts. In a realistic world this process is likely to take several years and will need the support of the nation along with the full efforts of both the government and the Welsh Assembly Government.

My first suggestion is to raise the public’s awareness of homelessness through the media. This won’t build any new houses, but if the public see what an issue it is they are more likely to donate to charities, and with more people concerned with the issue the government would have to respond.

For my next suggestion I must quote the words of Peter Black, who said that: “Part of that investment must be to ensure that, when somebody comes to their local council for assistance, there is suitable temporary accommodation available to house them until more permanent arrangements can be made.”

The suggestion here is that local councils need to have more facilities available for homeless people, and these words were enforced by Plaid Cymru’s social justice spokeswoman, Leanne Wood, who said that, “We need a massive investment into social housing.” So more housing must be provided by local councils.

Another course of action would be for the government to fund the existing charities and open up new ones. As the greatest issue is linked to unemployment, which in turn is sometimes fixed to having no postal address, a government service could be set up for homeless people where their mail could be directed, enabling them the opportunity to find work and therefore the possibility of escaping homelessness.

Another thing that could be done is to provide a service that would give access to healthcare and medical treatment. Food could also be given as well as bedding and blankets. And, like one area of France, homeless people could be provided with tents that would give them some warmth and a basic shelter.

Although these few actions will not solve the problem, I believe that everyone should have the right to good healthcare, food and basic shelter, and a person who is healthy is more likely to seek work than a person who is unwell. Therefore, providing these services could eventually prove beneficial in decreasing the rate of unemployment.

Of course, there is one obvious thing that could be done to help with the problem that has not yet been looked at. I live in the Rhondda Valleys and the area recently witnessed the closing of one of its biggest forms of employment, the Burberry factory.

Similar companies are closing all over Wales due to the credit crunch or because it is cheaper for their goods to be manufactured abroad. If the government gave incentives to these companies and support to stop them closing, the rate of unemployment would stop increasing and therefore homelessness would also increase less rapidly.

The government could also target areas of homelessness and offer incentives for new companies to develop in these areas.

To conclude the question, Why Is Homelessness In Wales Such A Problem? has been answered as the results of this investigation evidently show that homelessness is definitely a problem in Wales. This is mainly due to a mixture of unemployment, lack of affordable housing and the credit crunch we are currently experiencing.

However, we have to consider other factors. With the current recession, government efforts are focused on resolving this issue which in effect will help decrease the rising figure of homelessness. It must also be noted that there are perhaps other issues that are considered more important than homelessness, such as drug abuse and healthcare.

As the survey successfully proved, people did not know enough about homelessness and this can raise the question: do officials in government and the local authorities know enough about homelessness to also consider it an issue?

If not, perhaps this is an answer as to why homelessness is an issue in Wales. So, to finish this investigation, homelessness is more of an issue in Wales than in England and much can be done to try and solve this issue, but with an estimated three billion pounds needed to bring every home in Wales up to a decent standard, will anything be done?

The investigation went quite well and had a variety of different information such as the surveys and secondary sources. However, as expected there were limitations which could have been improved upon. The survey conducted was limited to a number of ten in a fixed small geographical area and its participants were mainly of similar ages.

It would have been a more effective survey if more questionnaires were filled in to obtain more opinions. As the ages were similar, it might have been better to have expanded the age ranges of the participants of the survey as people of different age ranges often differ in opinion. Also, had the survey been conducted in a wider geographical area, or a location such as Cardiff where homelessness is more of an issue, the responses may have differed.

An interview with a local authority member on the issue or with a member of a homelessness charity would have proved invaluable information as this would have given primary evidence on the opinions of people who deal with this issue frequently.

Local authorities deal with multiple issues and whilst in this survey it is suggested they do not do enough about the problem of homelessness in Wales, it has to be acknowledged that they are under considerable pressure and do not always have access to the resources required.

It must also be acknowledged that some people who are homeless choose to be so but are still counted in the statistics. Bearing this in mind, the figures on homelessness may not be an accurate reflection of the issue.

SOURCES

Statistics on homelessness in Wales and England: homelesspages

Quotations from Peter Black, Leanne Wood etc: BBC News


LINKS

Shelter Cymru

Welsh Assembly Government

The Poverty Site

CLIC homelessness info pages


IMAGES: Franco Folini / Watt Dabney

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