- by Peter Wills
- The Guardian
- Issue #1998
The tent city in Sydney, 2017, saw homeless people come together as a community and stand up to the government. (Photo: Anna Pha)
Having a roof over your head and a safe living space is not a privilege as capitalists would have us believe. It is a basic human right, and it beggars belief that in a country as rich as Australia that over 116,000 people every night do not have a safe place to sleep. That is just one statistic, coming out of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Worse still, charities, such as Mission Australia, estimate there are over 200,000 people sleeping rough every night – but what is causing this crisis? Is it substance abuse? Mental health issues? Or a lifestyle choice (as the right-wing politicians would have us believe)?
Homelessness is being caused by skyrocketing housing prices and rents. Rent is increasing at the rate of 8.9 per cent per annum while at the same time wages are stagnant, particularly for those on minimum wages and Centrelink benefits. This is being exacerbated by generous tax cuts like negative gearing for wealthy property owners and developers. There is currently no national plan to address this issue and the lack of affordable and public housing. The percentage of public housing stock has fallen from 7.1 per cent in 1991 to 4.2 per cent in 2016. There are currently over 190,000 people on public housing waiting lists.
Centrelink rent assistance for the unemployed has not kept pace with increasing rents and is currently twenty years behind where it should be. There is currently next to no housing affordable for a single person on Newstart in the whole country. According to the government’s own Productivity Commission research paper, an estimated 170,000+ deal with rental stress, with households having less than $250 a week to live on after paying rent. The housing market in Australia is overheating, which is causing homelessness and misery for those on low incomes. Meanwhile, property investors are rubbing their hands together with glee.
Only about four per cent of all dwellings in Australia are classed as social housing, compared with 10 - 19 per cent in other developed countries like Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, and the UK. The lack of social housing is causing misery for the poor and there is currently no coordinated program from all levels of government to address it. It is estimated that at least 15,000 dwellings need to be built every year just to keep pace and stop the homeless statistics getting any worse than they already are.
The appalling level of homelessness and people under severe rental stress is a symptom of a capitalist society where a person’s worth is reduced to an economic unit or by how much money they contribute to the economy. It is no surprise, therefore, that rich landlords with no consideration for people’s welfare would choose to drastically increase rents beyond the ability of many to pay.
In socialist countries like Cuba, housing is considered a basic human right. Homelessness is practically non-existent and everyone regardless of their means has a safe place to live. In a capitalist country this is not a priority as poor people are seen as less deserving and not worthy of a safe place to live. Only a socialist system of government in Australia will ensure everyone, regardless of social status has a safe place to call home.