Coronavirus is revealing how badly the UK has failed its most vulnerable

People working on the frontline in homeless shelters told CNN their worst nightmares were already coming true, with at least one facility forced to close after one of its users died from COVID-19. Most of the people in that shelter are now sleeping rough and may have come into contact with virus carriers.

Shelter, a non-profit that provides support for the UK’s homeless population, estimates that the number of people sleeping on the streets has risen 165% since 2010.

That date is important. It’s the year the UK went from having a center-left Labour government to a center-right Conservative-led administration. And in the wake of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, it embarked on policies that radically cut state spending. “The message was clear… we need to cut back to balance the books,” says Garry Lemon, director of policy at the Trussell Trust, a non-profit that supports food banks in the UK.

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“It took a lot of forms, but billions of pounds were taken out of our social security system — and it was done with widespread public support.”

Critics believe that government policies over the past decade have left the social security system severely compromised. “Our research shows that combined impact of those policies amount to average £3,000 a year ($3,560) for the poorest,” says Clare McNeil from the left-of-center IPPR think tank.

Lemon adds that his organization’s research has shown a link between these policies and a rise in “homelessness and food bank usage.”


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