It is the perennial question. How does abject poverty exist in the midst of enormous affluence? This is never truer than in relation to our housing stock.

England has at least 610 000 of empty housing units. Why oh why then are people on the street? Others are in emergency accommodation or temporary accommodation. Many are inadequately housed. A housing unit can house up to 10 people in some cases. The potential benefit of utilising this unused housing stock in tremendous. Admittedly some of the 610 000 housing units cited above may be Airbnb places. But living in such a place is far better than being on the street in freezing temperatures.

People often complain about concreting over the greenbelt. I have some sympathy for this. I do not want nature ruined either. If only we used these empty homes, then the demand for building on greenfield sites would diminish very appreciably.

More than 100,000 families are in temporary accommodation. A family is often 4 people. Imagine what we could do if we used the empty homes. A home means not just a roof over your head. It guarantees continuity, a sense of place and identity. This rootedness allows people to make friends, find a job and contribute to the community.

Saturday 9th October is the National Day of Action on Empty Homes. Make that a red letter day. Put the date in your diary for the demos. I shall see you there! The Big Issue is proud to lend its wholehearted and unstinting support to this noble campaign. It would be a betrayal to do anything less.

Many organisations are pitching in to raise awareness of this most pressing issue. Unite London, Streets Kitchen, Street Storage, the Social Action Housing Campaign are all getting involved. Organisations from across the UK will be there. So don’t miss out!

There will be an online rally for those unable to attend in person. We would like the broadest possible coalition of support. There is strength in numbers. The organisations involved all have different agendas and emphases. But on empty homes one bond unites us all. Let’s fill those empty homes with inadequately housed or unhoused people. The phrase ‘no brainer’ might have been invented for this.

When Boris Johnson was Mayor of London he said it was scandalous that London had thousands of empty housing units. Some of these are the priciest homes on earth. He then spoke of an extra high tax on empty homes. He did not follow through with this proposal. That idea could have funded housing for the homeless.

Unfortunately, the property development industry is not interested in social housing. They keep building accommodation aimed at ultra high net worth types. That is where the fat profits are. These are often second homes. These are often sold to people who do not even live in the UK. This is not a xenophobic statement: I have no problem with immigration. But if people buy a property in the UK, I would like them to live in it at least half the year or else let it out at a reasonable rent, not let it stand empty.

Too often council estates are left to rack and ruin. They are then demolished and unaffordable housing is built in its stead. We need a good standard of social housing dispersed through communities, not all together in ghettos.

We need to renovate existing housing stock to make it properly habitable. We also need to upgrade it in terms of insulation. That cuts electricity bill and tackles climate change.

 Donate to the campaign. Make some noise. Let’s get people housed.


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