'Homelessness is an individual difficulty, not a social problem.' Discuss in relation to current policies.

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'Homelessness is an individual difficulty, not a social problem.' Discuss in relation to current policies.

The provision of shelter is a basic human need which is identified in Maslows hierarchy of needs as an 'essential' need in order to progress to 'higher order' needs such as belonging and love. Those without shelter are collectively termed as 'homeless'.

This report will examine some of the reasons for homelessness in Britain, the problems that homeless people face and how the government has tackled these in the past. A brief history of housing policy is included which then leads on to current legislation intended to prevent homelessness.

Stewart, (2002, cited in Davies, 2002:156) remarks that homelessness is the most extreme form of housing need and that it is a failure of access to a secure home. It is therefore important to study homelessness as a social problem as Britain is a welfare state in which poverty and the housing problems and conditions of pre-war Britain were intended to be eradicated by increasing welfare provision such as social housing and social security benefits.

The Beveridge Report 'Social Insurance And Allied Services' Published in 1942, sought to address five giant 'evils': Want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. With the introduction of contributory based benefits, subsistence level benefits, and child benefits provided under the National Insurance Act 1946, families who found that their income was reduced either due to lack of work or sickness would not have to suffer hardship. 'Squalor' was tackled with 'slum clearance' and an extensive and ambitious council house building scheme which provided 'Homes for hero's' in recognition of the services that had been given during the Second World War. In 1945 alone, Madgwick, Steeds and Williams (1982:37) state that over 200,000 council houses were built meaning that four out of five houses in Britain were council owned. The introduction of the NHS, the aim of full employment and an education system intended to be the best in the world meant that the 'five giants' detailed by Beveridge should have disappeared.

Indeed, the number of people seriously lacking in food, clothing, shelter and warmth was dramatically reduced (ibid) in comparison to 1930's statistics and a massive growth in Social Service professions in the 1960's and 70's meant that people had greater access to quality health care, housing and advice.

Unfortunately, many problems exist today which mean that people are still experiencing problems associated with poor living conditions and the reasons why this is happening in a so-called 'welfare state' need to be investigated and addressed.

Pierson and Thomas (2002: 220) term homelessness as 'The condition of being without a home or shelter or of living in circumstances wholly inappropriate to personal and social needs.' Definitions of homelessness tend to vary widely with those who campaign against homelessness often taking a holistic approach and defining all those who are in 'inadequate accommodation' as homeless.

Homelessness can be seen as a condition of detachment from society characterised by the lack of the affiliative bonds that link people into their social structures. Homelessness carries implications of belonging nowhere rather than not having a bed.

The Housing Act 1996 describes someone as being homeless in the following way:

"A person is homeless if he has no accommodation available for occupation in the United Kingdom or elsewhere..."

However the act also takes into consideration people who may have accommodation but who cannot secure entry to it, or if it portable but there is nowhere available to secure it (e.g. houseboats and caravans). People in these situations are also termed as homeless.

The emphasis in this definition is on 'accommodation' and although someone may have a roof over their head and be sheltered, this does not necessarily constitute a 'home'. However, the act does address the issue of people who have no legal right to occupy the accommodation that they may be residing in and thus includes them as 'homeless people'.

Homelessness statistics are often unreliable as many people do not report themselves to local authorities as being in need of housing and figures usually reflect people who are accepted as homeless by local authority housing departments and thus are grossly underestimated (Pierson and Thomas, 2002:202). However in order to give an indication of the extent of the problem of homelessness according to local authorities in Britain, some statistics are included here.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Ministers Statistical Release (2002: 1) gives the following information:

* In December 2001, the number of households in accommodation arranged by local authorities under homelessness legislation was 85,780

* 12,670 of these households were in bed and breakfast of Annexe-style accommodation with shared facilities and 5,600 of these households were expectant mothers or already had children.

* There were 9,600 households in hostel accommodation which includes women's refuges.

For the whole of 2001, there were 184,290 households that were classified as homeless by local authorities in England (Office of the Deputy prime Minister, 2001:1). Shelter (2002: np) estimate that this represents over 440,000 people. Shelter blame homelessness on the shortage of affordable housing (ibid), and recognise that homelessness affects single people and families alike. They also link the problems of homelessness with difficulties associated with employment, access to healthcare and education.
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There are many stereotypes of homeless people. They are often perceived as being 'beggars', 'tramps', addicted to drugs and alcohol and are often blamed for their own predicament. A common misconception is that homeless people are all 'rough sleepers' (Maidstone Borough Council, 2002:3) but the vast majority of homeless people are not rough sleepers and still need the help of a local authority housing department (ibid) and the voluntary sector.

Homelessness is characterised by poverty, but homeless people may not be poorer than the lower ranks of the housed population, for instance, Dispatch Online (2003:1) reports that ...

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