As one of the most developed countries on earth with the fifth highest GDP in the world, the UK is not a place one would normally associate with poverty and homelessness.
The UK Government’s austerity measures have had a profound effect on millions of people across the UK in various different ways, with many viewing it as a primary cause of increased levels of poverty and homelessness, and figures seem to support this. Increased unemployment rates, coupled with cuts in social security, have undoubtedly left many people worse-off, relying on food banks, homeless and sleeping rough.
In 2010 the biggest cuts to state spending since World War II were announced. In conjunction with this, from 2010 to present, there has been a 55% increase in homelessness across the UK. In London alone, over 7,500 people slept rough between 2014 and 2015 according to local agencies. In England, more than 81,000 households were also found to be homeless during 2013/14.
Homelessness leads to greater difficulty in gaining employment, which often leads to debt and crime. Impaired health is also a notable effect of homelessness, with the average mortality rate of the homeless estimated at just 47 years of age compared with the national average of 77 years. Surveys of the homeless indicate that around 70% suffer from a mental illness, which is further exacerbated by the effects of their circumstances.
The huge increase in poverty and homelessness in the UK must be met with adequate and sufficient support from local communities and local authorities, particularly in coming weeks as the cold winter months set in. Local charities and NGOs such as Muslim Aid are working to fill the gap in support for the homeless, particularly during winter months when conditions are harshest, by serving hot meals and providing warm clothes, sleeping bags and sanitary items.
However, the root cause of the issue must be addressed. The Government must acknowledge the effects of its policies and make more of an effort to protect the most vulnerable people in our society, of which the homeless should be a top priority.