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Tom Jones: Surging homelessness is a sobering reminder of Britain’s immoral failure to build | Conservative Home

Tom Jones is Councillor for Scotton and Lower Wensleydale and author of the Potemkin Village Idiot substack.

The Government recently published the statutory homelessness figures. For fans of functioning societies, they make for grim reading.

Over 110,000 households and nearly 150,000 children are now in temporary accommodation, an increase of 12 per cent from last year. Nearly 90,000 households had initial assessments, an increase of nearly 20 per cent. Nearly 45,000 households were assessed as homeless, an increase of over 15 per cent. Nearly 35,000 households were assessed as being threatened with homelessness, an increase of nearly 5 per cent. Nearly 40 per cent of cases owed a prevention duty were caused by the end of private rental agreements, an increase of 5 per cent.

One of the primary drivers in the increase at the end of rental agreements was the increasing number of households in rent arrears – a staggering 122 per cent higher than last year. 11 per cent of those at risk of becoming (or who already are) homeless are those at risk or with experience of domestic abuse. 11,000 people, already facing the depredations of domestic violence, who must equally face the sorry prospect of becoming homeless.

Make no mistake: this should serve as a sobering reminder of the moral, social, and economic squalor that results from Britain’s failure to build enough homes. It is a disgusting set of affairs and one that can be attributed almost entirely to a lack of housing supply.

The story of our housing crisis is told in a similarly grim style. Britain is short of 4 million homes. No government has hit the 300,000 homes target since the late 1970s – but to keep pace with an immigration rate that adds a city the size of Birmingham to our population every year we actually have to build 515,000 homes a year, which no government has hit since records began in 1856.

The average house price is now nine times earnings, the highest for nearly 150 years, whilst rents reached an all-time high this week. In 2022 the Government spent over £23 billion on housing benefit, more than on the Ministry of Justice or the Home Office, simply to enable people to live in a housing market that doesn’t function properly.

Last year The Telegraph published “The NIMBY’s guide to taking on developers — and winning”. It recommended targeting councillors like me, because we “are more likely to refuse permission than the technocratic planners”. They were right to do so.

For too long, politicians have taken the politically easy decision to campaign against building homes, even perfectly suitable ones, on the principle – if it can be labelled as such – of securing votes from NIMBYs. The catalogue of such offences could fill a book, which would then by rights be burnt in public squares. John Elledge already fills a column at CapX with examples. Perhaps he will be our Savonarola, and we his weepers.

I have lamented before that, despite the vile effects that these campaigns against housing have on our society’s most vulnerable, NIMBYs continue to occupy the moral high ground. They portray their crusade as a fight against “outsized developers’ profits” and “unsympathetic, needless overdevelopment”, lightly skipping the fact their actions are directly fuelling a housing crisis.

There are reasonable grounds to oppose development. Just because a point is raised by a NIMBY doesn’t make it a bad one. Concern about housing is often concern about ownership. The right way forward is to address both supply and demand. Yes, we need more homes, but for North Yorkshire’s countryside to be concreted over for more second homes is like carrying wood into a burning building. The same can be said for foreign ownership in London. Different boots feel the same to the person being kicked.

Far too often, the planning system overrides the reasonable concerns that communities raise about new housing. Yet, equally as often, politicians are cowed by vociferous self-interest, by the sheer volume of the outrage. The voices of the voiceless, meanwhile, go unheeded.

We have a moral duty to society’s most vulnerable people, to ‘gather up in the arms of your love, those who expect no love from above.’ These figures show what happens when we abdicate that responsibility. Their needs, not our re-election, should be ever before our eyes. Being in favour of housing may not be politically expedient for a councillor. But as Margaret Thatcher said, “What is morally right usually turns out to be politically expedient”.

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