Did Cathy come home? Homelessness today

Saturday 22 October, 10.00 - 11.30 , Frobisher 1-3 Urbanism and its Discontents

In Association With:

Watch the video of this session at the bottom of this page.

When docu-drama Cathy Come Home, directed by Ken Loach, was beamed into the nation’s living rooms in 1966, depicting the troubled lives of a couple losing their home, it had a huge impact on the national consciousness. It led directly to the creation of the charity Crisis in 1967 and helped to garner support for another charity, Shelter, launched just after the film was broadcast. Fifty years on, Campbell Robb of Shelter has said that while ‘the slums of 1966 are gone … a housing crisis is once again gripping the country’. The numbers of families living in temporary accommodation has risen by a quarter in the past five years. The numbers sleeping rough in London doubled from 3,673 to 7,500, as they have across England. While former Prime Minister David Cameron promised to knock-down 100 sink estates, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused the government of ‘social cleansing’ of communities through public housing sell-offs and benefit cuts.

This year has seen the release of another big screen docu-drama about a homeless guy, Time Out of Mind, starring Richard Gere. There was also a Hollyoaks storyline, Musicians Against Homelessness was set up by former Oasis manager Alan McGee, and BBC1 gave us Famous, Rich and Homeless, a reality TV series featuring minor celebrities sleeping rough on the streets to ‘raise awareness’. The government is contemplating introducing a duty of prevention or ‘no one turned away’ policy on local authorities, requiring them to advise or support those unable to afford their rent, as well as young, single ‘sofa surfers’. It has also committed £100million to tackle the problem.

But what is the cause of the problem? Is it immigration? Or simply the housing shortage? Would more affordable homes solve the problem, or do those sleeping on the streets have mental-health problems that keep them from finding a stable home anyway? Some have even suggested the availability of cheap camping equipment has inflated the numbers taking to the streets. A parliamentary select committee has set up an inquiry to try to find out what’s really going on. So what’s changed about the housing crisis in 50 years? Is Cathy home yet?