After watching the second programme in the series, Swansea: Living on the Streets, last night, I have some more observations. But before making these, I want to address some sanctimonious Brit Left ‘anti-racist’ comments made on the earlier post.
What I’m attacking here (and in many other blogs) is the waste of public funding in Wales; the way that money always seems to be available for non-Welsh issues; and the fact that by throwing money at a problem – as in the case of turning Swansea into the homelessness capital of Wales – you only make that problem worse. I am attacking the third sector and those politicians who support it. There was nothing racist in my attacks on AWEMA and there is nothing racist here. ‘Racism’ seems to be the last resort of anti-Welsh Unionists who’ve got no argument.
In the earlier post I neglected to mention some other organisations active in Swansea. Prominent among them is Caer Las; an organisation I have previously posted about due to its activities in Llanelli. Also worth mentioning is the Wallich Foundation, very active in homelessness projects around Swansea Bay. Add these to Shelter Cymru, The Cyrenians, the many housing associations and other groups dealt with in my previous post, and you have what can only be described as a homelessness industry in Swansea. All reliant on government funding and public and private donations, which are drying up in these straitened economic times; so this series is – with the connivance of the BBC – nothing but an appeal by the Swansea homelessness industry for continued or increased funding.
Having mentioned Caer Las, this links with another recent post on the mystery of why Wales is the only country of the UK without legislation on Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO). With the result that in Wales it is possible to convert a residential dwelling into a multi-occupancy building (with up to 7 tenants) without needing planning permission and with no requirement to inform neighbours. Swansea – surprise! surprise! – has one of the highest incidences of HMOs in the UK. The more you learn about how Wales is misgovered the more you can make sense of things that you might otherwise pay no attention to. The Welsh Government refuses to implement HMO legislation because it would impede the colonisation work of the homelessness industry, private landlords, social housing agencies, universities and others.
Moving on, a criticism levelled against my previous post was that I was a bit harsh in my descriptions of some of the homeless. So consider this. Those being paraded before the cameras are the best of the bunch, the ones designed to elicit our sympathy. We aren’t being shown the aggressive beggars, the drunks and junkies sprawled out in public places, the used needles, the urine and the excrement, etc., etc. The BBC is not screening footage of gangs of drunken, screaming dossers wandering the city’s streets. No, it’s all very, very selective, because it’s all about securing funding.
Swansea has a homeless industry providing many hundreds of jobs; the ‘raw materials’ of this industry are down-and-outs. It follows that – as in any industry – there must be a regular supply of raw materials. To guarantee the continuing success of this industry Swansea must attract people with no connection with the city, or Wales, simply to keep the industry going. There can be no doubt that the industry has been successful. One of those interviewed in last night’s programme was a Mancunian who had travelled to Swansea from Bristol. This man – who, rather worryingly, described himself as “feral” – stated that he had “heard good things about Swansea” and this explained his coming. What he probably heard was that Swansea is a soft touch.
The fact that Swansea is Wales’ homelessness capital is due solely to the money and resources being thrown at the ‘problem’. It follows that if you throw more money at the problem it will grow, by attracting yet more dossers to the city. Then the self-serving people who run some of these organisations, and pay themselves such generous salaries (and pension packages), will use the growing problem to argue for yet more funding.
When are politicians and others going to wise up to the reality that many of these third sector ventures are nothing more than black holes for public funding? You will only reduce the problem of ‘homelessness’ in Swansea by cutting the funding and making the city less attractive to dossers.
It may not be AWEMA, but homelessness is another form of deception, and it saddens me that it’s happening in my home town. But this problem, this waste of money, is not confined to Swansea. Across Wales money is being poured into third sector ventures providing no benefits whatever to Welsh people. Why are we wasting this money? Why does Wales have no HMO legislation? Why is it often easier for a Londoner to secure social housing in Wales than a Welsh person?
Last Monday I watched a programme on BBC 1, Swansea: Living On The Streets, about homelessness in the ugly lovely town. When I realised it was the first of a series I assumed the subsequent programmes would focus on other Welsh cities and towns, but the whole series is devoted to Swansea. I couldn’t understand why . . . until a few days later when I saw an item on the BBC website about homelessness in Wales.
According to the latest statistics Swansea has more people homeless than Cardiff with 2,945 against Cardiff’s 2,020. Or, in percentage terms, 1.27% against 0.59% of the population seeking help. Which is both disturbing and odd. Because in second place, with a figure of 1.25%, is Neath Port Talbot; while in third place, with 0.83%, is Carmarthenshire. It’s reasonable to assume that the Carmarthenshire figure is heavily influenced by Llanelli, so we are really looking at the Swansea conurbation. But why should homelessness be a bigger problem here than anywhere else in Wales? (The full table is on the right, click to enlarge.)
The figures were supplied by the local authorities, so part of the answer must lie in how different councils assess homelessness. There is no other way to explain Flintshire having a figure of 0.07% and Swansea 1.27%. But I don’t think that’s the full answer.
Watching the programme last Monday I was struck by the fact that few, perhaps none, of those telling their stories were actually from Swansea. There were men from other parts of Wales, an Englishman, an Irishwoman and some Romanians. So why are they all in Swansea? If they’re looking for work, then surely Cardiff is the place to be? There must be something other than the sea air attracting them to Swansea and its satellite towns. There is, for I believe these homeless are just pawns in a bigger game.
Shelter Cymru, the homelessness charity, and one of the giants of the third sector, is based in Swansea. (Its president-for-life, John Puzey, was also on television last week, calling for more affordable housing.) Also very active in the Swansea area is Cyrenians Cymru, who help ‘rough sleepers’ (I don’t sleep too well sometimes – does that make me a rough sleeper?). There are other charities like the Salvation Army and various Christian bodies also active in the area, providing help for down-and-outs.
This also reminds us how fragile is the economy of our second city. We already know that Swansea is over-dependent on public sector jobs, from local government to the DVLA, but there seems to be a blind spot about the third sector, which is also over-represented in the city. The third sector is composed of the kind of organisations I’ve mentioned in the two preceding paragraphs, reliant for their survival on grants and donations. As might be expected in the current economic climate, both sources of income are declining, made clear in the most recent set of accounts available on the Shelter Cymru website. But these are for 2009 / 2010, so we can assume that the position is even more desperate today. Which probably explains what’s happening in Swansea, and at BBC Wales.
With their income streams drying up those in the homelessness and affordable housing business need to stress the problem in order to keep the lolly rolling in . . . and of course to secure the funding needed for hundreds if not thousands of publicly-funded jobs in Swansea. How to do it? Thinks . . . get the Beeb onside then wheel on the dossers . . . let them tell their harrowing tales of self-destruction . . . capture them crying . . . see them sleeping under cardboard – hey presto! more funding is guaranteed. Both for homelessness directly and also the ‘affordable homes’ built by outfits like Coastal Housing and Gwalia which also feed off the ‘homelessness problem’, using it to justify more funding to house more problem tenants.
Here’s my take on this. Human nature being what it is, the third sector contains some unscrupulous people wishing to exaggerate the scale of homelessness in Swansea (and Wales, generally) in order to, a) guarantee their own positions and salaries and, b) make political points about ‘wicked, uncaring capitalism’. Before anyone accuses me of right wing bias, just remember this: most of the third sector in Wales – outfits like AWEMA – must justify their existence and their funding by identifying and stressing a ‘problem’. The bigger that ‘problem’ can be made to appear then the more funding can be claimed. This is an incontrovertible fact.
The problem of homelessness in Wales will only become worse if more funding is allocated to solving it. This is because the more support and funding provided the more an area, like Swansea, becomes a magnet for dossers, junkies, alkies, misfits and criminals. The bottom line is that – due to the Englandandwales framework in which our third sector operates – the better funded our third sector then the bigger the problems will become. Politicians should start waking up to this reality.