• 30 Dec - 05 Jan, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

The Christmas season is upon us. Usually, it is a pain in the neck because nothing works in the days between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day and then again from New Year’s Eve to the day following New Year’s Day. Given that there is likely to be a weekend somewhere in between, which means that for all practical purposes, the period from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, can be written off. Doctor’s surgeries are either closed or working on skeleton staff, motor garages are shut, heating and boiler companies are away and most forms of life are too heavily inebriated to do anything but snore on the sofa. If you, or your car or your heating system break down, heaven help you.

But it is also known as the season of good cheer and kindness and sympathy for one’s fellow beings and every once in a while, there are stories that emerge which show that for some people at least, it is that. Perhaps the most remarkable of these was of a man who offered his two bedroom flat in the King’s Cross area of London free of charge to homeless people during this period. Normally, a two bed apartment in that area of London rents for around £2,000 per month; besides, it is always a bit of a dicey proposition to allow homeless people to live in your property without any documentation – or, for that matter, even with documentation. There is always the possibility that they may turn into squatters and refuse to vacate a warm place with all the amenities while the prospects outside, with freezing temperatures, may be definitely uninviting. That could lead to a very nasty situation.

But this young man was not deterred by such considerations. He appealed to the public to help find him such deserving homeless people, many of whom surprisingly are quite young, to live in his apartment for free.

One of the reasons he said he was doing this was because he knew what it was like to be homeless. He is said to have come to London some time ago to ‘seek his fortune’ rather like the Dick Whittington of folklore who came to London as a pauper, accompanied only by his cat, and went on to become Lord Mayor of London. He had a car of some description and that, apparently, was all that he had. Rents in London being what they are, he could not afford a flat and therefore lived in his car, spending the cold winter nights sleeping in the back seat. That is not the sort of thing you would wish on your worst enemy. However, over a period of time his circumstances improved but he did not forget the privations he went through during his period of homelessness. He said that he now wanted to give back and help some people in a situation similar to the one he had been in a few years ago.

Difficult as it may be to believe, homelessness is a big problem in this fifth largest economy of the world. According to recent figures, more than 300,000 people or one in every 200 are officially recorded as homeless, living in temporary accommodations, charity hostels or actually sleeping rough, in the streets or under whatever shelter they can find. This may mean under ledges of commercial buildings or subways or foyers of underground stations. The figure does not include what are known as ‘sofa surfers’, people who go around spending a night or two on a friend’s sofa as and one such a facility is available. With economic uncertainty, the figures are likely to go up and our very caring Conservative government has therefore passed a Homelessness Reduction Act which comes into force in 2018 but which puts the burden of actively taking steps to prevent households at risk from becoming homeless on local councils. We are therefore looking forward to a rise in Local Council tax next year which may be as much as six per cent! In this part of the world, there is no such thing as free lunch. By the year 2020, it is feared that more than a million families could be homeless. These are people who are unable to afford even the lowest rents in the private housing sector.

That is a downside of a rampant capitalistic economy where the gap between the rich and poor is ever increasing and where the number of children living in poverty goes up correspondingly. And yet, socialism is a bad word. Mention it once in a ‘polite’ society and you could be banished forever. Perhaps the main reason for this is the huge shift towards the right in politics with the brand of caring conservatism practised by the likes of Harold MacMillan and Edward Heath long dead, and the Labour Party also moving to the right in the belief that it was only that narrow bit of the political spectrum that was ‘electable’. Now, for the first time in Jeremy Corbyn, there is hope that there may be a realignment towards a more caring and humane society, of the sort that Britain always was. •