A societal shift in thinking to solve homelessness? - RSA

A societal shift in thinking to solve homelessness?


  • Picture of Paul Atherton FRSA
    Paul Atherton FRSA
  • Housing
  • Fellowship

Paul appeared recently as a case study in the Housing chapter of the book 'Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People'.

This year has been a revelatory experience for me, as I've spoken at various events - including at our own hallowed institution - about the issues of homelessness and social security; the one thing that is strikingly evident is that nobody is interested in fixing the problem.

Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has discovered that it is pointless using the “in my shoes” argument, as the public either went down a “this will never happen to me” route, believing that it's poor decision making that leads individuals to find themselves without a home, or saw the problem as inevitable and fatalistic and that therefore it was going to happen it was going to happen and there's nothing I can do about it.

In the past, whenever I've needed a cohort of volunteers to create something, it was simply the idea you had to sell and people fell over themselves to assist to make it happen. Ten years on and I find things in the total opposite sphere, even when people love the idea they do everything in their power not to make it succeed.

My claim to fame - The Ballet of Change series of films - was handled with just five people who all loved volunteered their time or took massive reductions in their usual salaries. They wanted to be a part of something great that was celebrating London.

It involved planning departments in four boroughs, IT work, devleoping a distribution channel for the music to be downloaded from iTunes, and we projected the films onto St. Martin's in the Field in Trafalgar Square.

The major institutions - which included the Museum of London, The London Transport Museum, Vicctoria & Albert Museum, BBC Motion Gallery, ITN Source and Pathe News to mention but a few - were incredibly accomodating and even the Heritage Lottery fund accommodated us by not referring to the project as a film event but as an archive to side-step their 'we do not fund films' policy.

Discussing the issues of the UK's impending Brexit with demonstrators outside 10 Downing Street at an impromptu gathering prompted by Boris Johsnon's prorogation of parliament really cemented the problem for me.

Never had anything like the numbers there come to support the campaigns in respect to welfare, disability or anything in relation to social security. Which, when you think about it, shows massive cultural shift towards money that was evident a decade or so ago.

Keeping prices low seemed the order of the day and not social cohesion or ensuring protections for the vulnerable, the disabled, the sick or simply those who've hit on hard times.

The difference that the media makes by dividing welfare recipients from tax payers would be laughable if it weren't so damaging. The system is run as an insurance scheme whereby everybody pays in but only some people claim. They are not one group or another but a subset of the whole.

Taken to its logical conclusion, it would be like complaining about people who claim on Car Insurance calling them cheating scum, for simply making a rightful claim under the insurance scheme that was sold to them, simply because you had never had the misfortune to claim yourself. When seen like that, it's utterly ludicrous that we would apply anything different to our National Insurance.

Whether you're a tax payer through income tax or VAT, if you live in the UK you're always a tax payer.

The two initiatives that I've been a major supporter of for years, are, like the RSA, Universal Basic Income and an initiative known as Housing First (where homeless people are first given a house and then provided the support in order to sustain it).

In the past year I've been interviewed by the Mail on Sunday, Buzzfeed, Channel 4 News, The Huffington Post and not once made the cut. I believe the problem is that I don't fit the stereotype of a homeless person, which is invariably why people come to interview me in the first place.

Even without money, many people think I live a luxurious lifestyle looking at my twitter feed on @LondonersLondon whether eating out, attending theatre or cinema or visiting museums or galleries.

So the idea for Displaced came from how we need to communicate to the press. A citywide art project that they can't ignore. Finding the assistance to make this happen is the thing that's preventing things.

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