Our homes are part of our identity. They are places where we should feel secure, safe and happy; places where we can relax and be ourselves. They are buildings where babies are conceived and where we die. They are and always will be, the bedrock of any society.
So, to consider yourself homeless may not mean that you are living in a cardboard box, although that is the most commonly understood meaning of the word. It can also mean you have lost your home; that the sense of security you had, has gone, that you are living somewhere that is temporary, not your own space; a space you do not feel happy to be in. It can mean that you are struggling to find somewhere to place yourself so that you can regain the equilibrium that having a secure, long-term home gives you.
The bedroom tax is attacking the very concept of a home. To make people move simply because they have too many bedrooms, rooms where they may have conceived their children, have nursed a spouse or parents, rooms that are a part of them, is to my mind, unbelievably insensitive and cruel.
To call yourself homeless means that for you, there is no stability. You are oppressed by your situation. You cannot function as you would if that stability was there, in a home you can call your own.
People of my generation are becoming an extension of that homeless group we only ever thought of as the bodies we saw in shop doorways; the people queuing at soup kitchens; the men and women wandering the streets, of all ages, carrying their meagre bundles of possessions.
But now, this group is growing to include people in their later years, people who have had hard-working lives, who have raised kids and paid their taxes. These are the people who took out mortgages to give their kids security in a home they owned. These are people who found that mortgage rates were too high, had to remortgage and moved on to the next house to try to keep up with the cost of living. These are the people that have been hit hardest over the past twenty-five years. These are the people about to be the new homeless.
Many people in this age group took out interest-only mortgages, desperate to hang on their own homes and keep the repayments down. The stock of council houses diminished under Thatcher and has continued to be inadequate to house people who cannot ever hope to apply for and get a mortgage. So, those who did manage to find a mortgage company willing to enable them to buy a home, were often encouraged to take out an interest-only loan. These mortgages have to be paid off in a lump sum, at the end of their term, but there was always the possibility of a remortgage.
Then, the mortgage companies started to change the rules, making it more and more difficult for older people to remortgage. People in their sixties and seventies who have these interest-only loans and who have had to sell up, for whatever reason, pay off their loans and are unable to get another mortgage leaving them with too little capital to fund a new home, let alone pay for care as they age.
If you are in this position, are you homeless? In my book, you are. With rents escalating and a one-bedroom flat costing anything up to £1000 a month, depending where you are living, how can anyone who has paid off their mortgage, has insufficient capital left and is on a pension, afford that?
The elderly worry a great deal about debt. They worry about leaving their kids with a financial mess to sort out when they die. And contrary to the views of many, not all baby-boomers are wealthy; far from it.
It’s not just the young and unemployed who are homeless; that’s bad enough. Older people who have always paid their way, never been on benefits, held down a job for many years and raised kids, then have to sell up for whatever reason, may be homeless at that stage in their lives, because the housing market, rented or otherwise, is closed to them as well.
To my mind, this is the new definition of the word ‘homeless’.