‘What should be done? The answer is two-told, short-term and long-term.
‘The long-term is the simplest to say and the hardest to do. We must build more homes.
‘West Germany, with a roughly similar population, has built almost twice as many homes as we have since the war.
‘Successive governments have cut down on housing when they should have been giving the go-ahead.
‘In my view the greatest blunder was that of the Tories who, during their years in office, allowed public building to drop by almost exactly a half.
‘But neither party has ever treated housing as the national crisis it is.
‘Britain has a reputation for triumph in cases of crisis. In the case of this crisis, the triumph has been a long time coming.
‘The socialists came in last time with a promise of 500,000 houses before 1970. It now seems that they will be unable to meet this. But, even if met, this rate of building means that, very probably, there will still be homeless in the 1980s.
‘Is this good enough?
‘The percentage of our national income spent on housing is almost the lowest in the Western world.
‘Is it not time to change some of our national priorities? To switch money, for instance, from a largely worthless defence programme, to building more houses?
‘Now let me deal with the short-term answers.
‘The first answer is compassion, ending the savage and repressive indignities suffered by so many of Britain’s homeless.
‘Compassion may have to be taught. In the two hostels where the homeless have taken the law into their own hands, where fathers have fought for the right to remain with their families, victories have been won.
‘Broadly speaking, the savage rules have been rescinded, husbands have been moved in with their families, kitchens have been kept open, radios and television have been permitted.
‘In many cases what is needed is a change of heart. Local officials must change their mentality because, with the arrival of the ‘Welfare State’ we, as a country, decided we are no longer justified in punishing poverty or failure.
‘We could build new towns of a size and number which are so far unheard of. We could erect emergency dwellings in our little-used roads or public parks. We could put caravans on sites derelict or due to be redeveloped.
‘Great charitable institutions like the Rowton Houses could throw open their doors to the homeless as they did in other moments of crisis during the last two wars. Local councils could re-allocate their innumerable under-occupied dwellings.
‘Industry could be redirected to towns which desperately need it, where houses are actually standing idle.
‘At the moment we are doing very few of these things, and none of them very effectively. Meanwhile the number of homeless families camping in our institutions goes on rising.
‘Physical conditions in many hostels in Britain have improved. We must see that they do in all of them. But even in these there remains the worst thing of all – the shame of being homeless. People who live there have seen their homes collapse around them. However well they are housed, we will not have succeeded as a nation until there are enough houses built for there to be no more homeless.
‘Let us resolve on a change of heart.
‘A viewer from Kent has written to me about Cathy: ‘If only it would stir the many people living alone in big houses to open their doors to families. If only it could have been seen and remembered and goad into action the politicians responsible for housing. I am ashamed to be English. I have lived in Africa and the meanest hovel would house a family in need. Here ‘civilisation’ breeds such shocking problems of loneliness and want that one cries out against it.
‘There, but for the grace of God – I am housed, I and my husband and our four children, and I feel guilty and ashamed.’
Jeremy Sandford FanClub Archives
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