When I was growing up there was almost no homelessness in Australia. If you were homeless then, you were probably an ageing male who drank too much, and you had been caught out between shelters, or in some cases, you chose sleeping rough over the sometimes stifling rules in those shelters. They were often run by ‘Christian’ organisations.
Seven years of a Coalition Government has exacerbated the problem. Greatly. There has always been an economic argument for ending homelessness, but really it would take this Government a collective brain-transplant to recognise the benefits. As we have come to know, they all seem to have been infected by the neoliberal virus, which appears to deaden the mind.
Would ending homelessness be good for us?
Recent reports into homelessness by the McKell Institute concluded that ending homelessness delivers on several fronts. Some of the benefits would be improved health and employment outcomes, and a greater sense of safety, independence and social connectedness. “However, the economic co-benefit of the investment is sizeable.” PwC
In many cases support services are required, the most expensive of which is crisis housing, in hotels, motels, caravan parks etc. The McKell Institute cites modelling by PwC that moving each person from crisis accommodation will save $11,935 per year, per person, through reduced use of government services including health services, welfare, police and prisons. So, not only beneficial to society, but it saves money.
What causes homelessness?
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) is an independent statutory agency. This is a part of their latest report on homelessness in Australia:
“On Census night in 2016, more than 116,000 people were estimated to be homeless in Australia—58% were male, 21% were aged 25–34 and 20% identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (ABS 2018). Around 51,000 (44%) were living in severely crowded dwellings. Over 21,000 (18%) were living in supported accommodation for the homeless and 8,200 (7%) were rough sleepers.”
That is like a roll-call of the neediest Australians. There are a number of reasons why the numbers are going up – women and children fleeing family violence, young people unemployed and unable to afford rent, debt, disability, the scourge of methamphetamine use, are all contributing to the rise in numbers. Add the casualties of the Covid-19 recession and those numbers have swelled.
As noted, the Coalition continues to curb funding for many support services. One wonders if it is a sneaky way to further punish those who are not thriving. Divine retribution, anyone?
How do we fix it?
There is a solution. And the Federal Governments is wilfully ignoring it. Build public, low-cost housing, and most of the problem will go away. Public housing provision, by state and federal governments, both Labor and Liberal, has fallen to its lowest level in 40 years. However, the issue of cost has always seemed to be an insurmountable issue.
Things are different now. The Government has signalled that it is ready, and keen to provide substantial stimulus. And there is a perfect destination for all that stimulus. Additional to the social benefits of alleviating homelessness, there is the opportunity to build something, to re-build self-esteem and social cohesion, to undo the decades of neglect. There is an opportunity to re-build Australia as a fair place, where the strong make sure the weak are looked after. You know, the reason we pride ourselves on being Australians.
Imagine employing small suburban construction companies, with all the under-employed builders standing by, the timber and brick manufacturers aglow with anticipation, apprentices saved by the promise of work, how good is a building-led recovery?
Allied to the fact that building is so local, there is no need to employ the mega-builders, or multi-nationals. The local shopping strips will reap the benefit of the tradies buying their lunches. They might even need a new ute, with all the work … Go hard, go local!
How did Morrison use the stimulus?
Of course you would be wrong if you thought Morrison and his Government chose the humane and intelligent solution. They would rather give the stimulus in tax cuts, which may, or may not, be used. Companies might buy another piece of capital equipment, but why should they? They are not sure they will have customers on the other side.
The wealthy, who will also enjoy the benefits of very generous tax cuts, will pocket the cash. Their lives are already fully upholstered, and so their consuming will not achieve anything at all. How many yachts can one boathouse hold?
In a country of such wealth it is an absolute disgrace that children are living in cars and under bridges, while we provide million dollar tax-cuts to billionaires and their ilk. Throw in a billion or two to fossil fuel companies, and you have a recipe for a future disaster. The Coalition will never learn. They talk the Keynesian talk, but they can’t manage the walk.
It also knows that those less well off spend their stimulus the minute they receive it; so by going quickly, to those who need it most, they would have helped those most in need of it – small business, and their customers. So cutting benefits to those most in need is not only miserable and cruel – it is dumb economics. When will we all wake up to this crooked Government, and throw them out of office?