The Broadway Homeless charity have just reported that London has seen a 43% increase on people sleeping rough in the capital from last year. The only glimmer of home in this figure is that 70% of those aren’t sleeping out for the second night due largely to the actions of charities like Broadway and increased work from outreach teams. This, despite Boris Johnson’s pre-election pledge to ‘end rough sleeping by 2012’. According to a Guardian report in April this year, £5m – underwritten by central government – was diverted from the Mayor’s budget for rough sleepers, to ‘other purposes’. Expect worse to come if proposals to remove housing benefit for under 25’s come to fruition.
There is a clear link between London’s rents becoming more and more unaffordable for large sections of the population and these figures. London is often referred to as a divided city. It isn’t. It is now many cities. Extraordinarily wealth in the centre, guarded and cosseted by technology and private security (tested and honed on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan) swimming in an ocean of increasing poverty – material and aspirational – that finds its dreams impossible. All of this underwritten by a facetious, poisonous narrative of unfulfilled personal responsibility and fecklessness.
According to Stuart Hall, cities of the nineteenth century and twentieth centuries were monuments to Imperial power: motors of industrial production and trade. Globalisation has significantly reshaped London and the people sleeping on its streets (or the thousands a breath away from it) as inconvenient dislocations from an industrial to a service economy dictated to by modern day robber barons fixated on personal wealth and profit. I write so much about the Developing World, Delhi in particular (and recently Athens) that it is easy to neglect what is literally under my feet.