In July this year there were 1,220 homeless families (6,048 persons) in LCC welfare accommodation and the trend was still upwards. Among them there were more “ordinary decent Londoners” than “settlers, ne’er-do-wells.”
Between 1957, after the Rent Act had become effective, and 1961 the amount of homelessness caused by landlords who required accommodation or sold property rose from 4 per cent to 22.5 per cent.
The net cost to the council for keeping a homeless family in temporary welfare accommodation in May, 1962, was £19 4s a week. At the same time the cost to the children’s department of keeping a child who came into care because of the homelessness of his parents was £453 a year, or £8 4s 2d a week. If the half million pounds contributed by the community to the cost of caring for these homeless children were diverted to building houses or granting mortgages, more than a thousand families could be rehoused.
These facts emerged from a study, London’s Homeless, by John Grove, published for the Social Administration Research Trust by the Codicote Press, Welwyn (Occasional Papers on Social Administration No. 10, 9s 6d). The research involved was organised by the London School of Economics at the instigation and with the co-operation of the LCC. Its results, which were submitted to the council in July, 1962, are here recent supplemented by more recent material.
Case records showed that the five predominant causes for homelessness were domestic friction, recent arrival in London, the landlord requiring the accommodation, rent arrears or the sale of the house. The increase in homelessness caused by rent arrears was due to the inability of wage earners to keep pace with rising costs, rather than to widespread irresponsibility among tenants or subtenants. In the LCC area average rents in privately rented accommodation rose by one third between 1958 and 1961. More than half of the homeless families had come from furnished accommodation which, according to the 1961 Census, housed only 13.8 per cent of the households in the area and here rents generally were even higher, while the dwellings were often poorly equipped.
A great deal of the so-called “domestic friction,” which was consistently one of the main causes of homelessness, might be a consequence of poor housing.
In 1961 the principal wage earner in a homeless family was typically in unskilled or semi-skilled manual work and earning from £10 to £14 a week even in full-time employment – well below average manual earnings in London, which were over £16 at the time. Half the husbands who were admitted to short-stay housing with their families earned less than £12 a week, and another quarter between £12 and £14.
The inquiry disclosed that from 1959 the most striking increase in homelessness was among couples in their early twenties. The falling average age reflected the worsening situation in rented housing and the growing disadvantages of families on low income. Most of the older couples were setting up house when rents were controlled and private tenancies protected, and were in the age groups most likely to have been housed from waiting lists before 1956. After this date slum clearance rehousing was given priority in the allocation of council houses.
“The rise in homelessness is now greatest among those who have not had enough time or income to establish themselves and who have had virtually no chance of becoming council tenants because of the high priority given to slum clearance. At the same time, their low income and manual status bar most of them from owner occupation and their chances of buying are rapidly declining as rising house prices far outstrip increases in manual wages.”
Unmarried mothers, women who were cohabiting, and those separated from their husbands, were more common among the homeless than among the adequately housed, but during the period of the survey there was an increase in the proportion of legally married applicants for temporary accommodation from slightly over one half in 1959 to almost two thirds at the end of 1961.
Until the last month of 1961, fewer than one homeless adult in 50 was born in a Commonwealth country or overseas territory, but towards the end of the year the proportion increased. Part of the increase was probably due to the growing numbers of Commonwealth citizens entering Britain before the Immigrants Act took effect. “But,” says the report, “it was also predictable that slum clearance and keener competition for housing (expressed in high rents and house prices and greater selectivity by people with houses to let or sell) would have cumulative effect in areas where migrants traditionally settled.” Recently arrived families were numerous, but the bulk of the problem was produced by people who had been in London for several years, a good proportion of them since birth.
The research team considers that to the extent that homelessness was a housing problem it should be the clear responsibility of the housing department of the LCC and its successor, the Greater London Council, and the new London boroughs. It found conditions in large sections of privately rented housing were bad enough to “justify on demand” intervention by the council which should become the landlords. This policy would require the co-operation of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government; so far the Ministry had been “extremely reluctant” to grant compulsory purchase orders.