Colin Fox, National Co-Spokesperson of the Scottish Socialist Party, reflects on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the situation with homeless people in the UK.
Sputnik: What problems would a surge in homelessness cause for the UK whilst coronavirus cases and deaths still remain at a significant level?
Colin Fox: The rise in homelessness is hardly surprising. During this pandemic, many people have seen their incomes drop away completely so I think the authorities are trying to deal with on the basis that episodic event and the longer it lasts, the longer and the more difficult the problem has been. We had a big problem with homelessness before March when this started, it's not gone away and the circumstances we're in are going see it probably get worse and worse. The thing that jumps out at me is that the government promised that we were 'all in this together'. So, we have to ensure that those people who were in housing and justice and found themselves in the streets and homelessness have to be looked after throughout this pandemic in the same way that everybody else has got to be looked. This is a big responsibility for the government and they better not to fail us.
Sputnik: Colin, you've seen homelessness in the flesh and you've seen the effects of it. Are politicians both in government and opposition groups really doing enough to tackle the issue of homelessness and ultimately protect people who may be vulnerable or be becoming homeless?
Colin Fox: The hard fact of the matter is they aren't. I mean you talk about 11,000 rough sleepers - that's what we're talking about. People are living and sleeping outside in this weather, I look outside my window, it's lashing with rain just now. What a depressing prospect that is. Homelessness itself is far far bigger even than that. There are lots of people who are sofa surfing; they don't have anywhere to stay; they don't have anywhere they can call their own. There's terrible overcrowding, so as well as people living in the streets, we've got people who are living in accommodation that's totally unfit for them and over the last 11 weeks now since the coronavirus started the government has been putting people in B&B's and hostels which themselves are not adequate. That's 11 weeks of living in insecurity and not knowing where you're going to be living thereafter. It's a terrible problem and the fact of the matter is, of course, there is no need for anybody anywhere in Britain to be rough sleeping. There's no need for anybody to be homeless, there's no need for anybody in this country to be living in housing injustice. That's a fact and the government stand condemned that they've done nothing about it. The interesting thing to me is they've announced in the past few days that house building will continue or they're going to start up the house building. In the south of Edinburgh, they're building houses, Miller Homes just at the end of our street by the bypass, half a million pounds these houses are costing. They're building those houses but they're forgetting about everybody who hasn't got half a million pounds. Everybody has seen their incomes tank in the last 11 weeks, who's insecurity in the mental health, the problems are exacerbated by the Coronavirus. They have frankly forgotten about. So to me, the answer is we need to get building houses for those who need them the most. Urgently building publicly affordable, real affordable houses, instead of kind of affordable like someone would claim half a million pounds is an affordable house in this city. We need to get a grip on reality more.
Sputnik: Could homelessness become more of a priority as we come out of lockdown and overcome the coronavirus?
Colin Fox: You're right to identify the fact that homeless people, people that are homeless, are living through two crises. They're living through a crisis of coronavirus like everybody else and they're living through a crisis that they have nowhere fit for them to stay. I hope that the coronavirus and the pandemic and the experience that we've all gone through is a wakeup call. Yesterday in the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon said we need to rethink how we have done things in the past, I hope that it's more than just words, more than just rhetoric that we hear from politicians all the time. I hope that she's honest and sincere and that we are going to rethink how we've done things in the past because we've failed the homeless in the past and if out this crisis that was to happen that would be a fantastic step forward. I wouldn't hold my breath, I have to say, because I think too much of this is just warm words but there are things that I thought I would never see in my life that have happened in the last 10/11 weeks. The solidarity that people are shooting towards the most vulnerable. The billions, hundreds of billions of pounds of government money that's been spent furloughing people, when we've been told for the last seven years of austerity that the government didn't have a penny piece. Well, they found 330 billion pounds to close down the economy. So I'm hopeful that's what socialists are. We're hopeful that we're going to see real changes coming out of this experience we've all gone through, and goodness knows the homeless need the more than anybody.
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