By the time you read this it will be New Year. As I’ve said before, when you start the year is arbitrary. Where does a circle begin or end? I start mine the day after solstice, when the light returns and the days are getting longer.
This year I went to see my friend Bapu up in London. He is an astrologer with an uncanny ability to read your innermost thoughts. He is also severely disabled and lives in a state of extreme poverty.
A few weeks ago he discovered that his benefits had been cut. No one told him this was going to happen, nor why. His only guess is that it must have something to do with Universal Credit.
His money was reduced from around £500 a month to a little more than £300. This is supposed to cover all his needs, including food, heating, lighting and rent.
Luckily for Bapu he lives in a housing co-op and his rent is very affordable. As a sitting tenant he is unlikely to be evicted.
While I was there I went shopping. It’s about fifteen minutes walk. On the way I passed two homeless people, a man and a woman. Unlike Bapu these are people who weren’t in secure accommodation when circumstances made their homes unaffordable.
We see so many people on the streets these days. The numbers are growing by the year. For the first time last year there were people begging in Whitstable. I’ve never seen that before.
How has this happened? What kind of a nation have we become that we see so many homeless people haunting our towns and cities?
I spoke to one person outside the Co-op. He said he was sleeping under a beach hut down by the tennis courts. It was a particularly cold night. I gave him some money then went home and got him a sleeping bag. He already had one, of course, a thin, blue nylon thing, but mine was much fluffier and more cosy. After I gave it to him he hugged me. I’ve never been hugged by a homeless person before.
According to the latest figures, the number of homeless in Canterbury has dropped this year, from 73, to 33. That may be true, but the fact we are seeing people in the outlying towns, where they never were before, should give us pause for thought.
In fact the numbers nationally have gone up by 20% while homeless deaths have increased by 24%. Almost 600 people have died on Britain’s streets in the last year. The average life-span for a homeless person is 44 for a man and 42 for a woman.
This is not to speak of the tens of thousands forced to sleep on people’s sofas or staying in hostels.
Meanwhile, of course, the number of billionaires, and their relative wealth, is increasing. The richest 100 people in Britain saw their value rise by £55.5 billion between 2010 and 2017.
There are multi-million pound flats sprouting up all over London. They are built as a store for wealth and as investment opportunities, not to live in. Most of them remain empty.
Don’t tell me these facts are unrelated.
The rise in wealth of the richest people in the UK would pay for brand new houses for all of our homeless. In fact it would make every one of them millionaires many times over.
So here’s wishing you a happy New Year. May the returning light bring you health and prosperity. May the homeless find warmth and security, and may those whose selfishness has deprived our world of justice and humanity awaken to their responsibilities at last.
From The Whitstable Gazette 03/01/19
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