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Republican Utah would house the author of this sign. Conservative Britain would not.

Republican Utah would house the author of this sign. Conservative Britain would not.

How much does it cost to keep a homeless person out of hospital or jail, and to feed them?

That is the question that Utah’s state government asked, and when they discovered it was more than it would cost to house these people, the people’s representatives made the obvious choice.

Homelessness in Utah dropped by 78 per cent in the eight years to January 2014, and was on track to be eradicated altogether by this year.

But you won’t see a Conservative member of Parliament advocating such a policy! Why is that?

“In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of Emergency Room [hospital] visits and jail stays for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker”, according to Nation of Change.

“So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached. Each participant in Utah’s Housing First program also gets a caseworker to help them become self-sufficient, but they keep the apartment even if they fail. The program has been so successful that other states are hoping to achieve similar results with programs modeled on Utah’s.

“It sounds like Utah borrowed a page from Homes Not Handcuffs, the 2009 report by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless. Using a 2004 survey and anecdotal evidence from activists, the report concluded that permanent housing for the homeless is cheaper than criminalization. Housing is not only more human, it’s economical.”

Here in the UK, we have a lot of social housing becoming available as the Bedroom Tax takes its toll, and a consequently-rising level of homelessness – meaning that British Conservatives have missed the point of the Utah programme altogether.

Perhaps they don’t have figures showing it is cheaper to house the homeless than to kick them onto the streets. It certainly seems unlikely that the overworked NHS take care to note down every single homeless person receiving treatment – and any conclusions we draw from the remarkable rise in Accident & Emergency admissions since the Tory-led government started its pogrom against social housing would be drawing on very iffy evidence.

Perhaps they want to develop the now-empty social housing into expensive homes for the very rich. This certainly seems to be happening in London. Even developments that are forced to include affordable housing have done so by segregation – adding divisive “poor doors” so that rich and poor neighbours need never meet each other.

Perhaps they simply want to hurt poor people.

This seems the most likely.

We have seen other Conservative policies that push up the cost to the taxpayer. Without taking homelessness into consideration, the cost of the Bedroom Tax has always been more than it saved. Labour has shown that the increase in tuition fees will cost the UK nearly £300 billion by 2030, with the state having to write off an additional £2 billion in student debt every year. Universal Credit, and the cuts to social security benefits, deserve to have books written about the shocking mismanagement they have suffered.

It can’t be about saving money, you see. One of the most right-wing states in one of the most right-wing countries in the world started running a social housing programme in the knowledge that it would save money for taxpayers, so the Tories can’t suggest that’s what they’re doing.

It has to be spite.

Why, then, do British voters – especially the English – support such behaviour? This kind of aggression can be directed at anybody, and there is only so much money and humiliation that can be wrung from people on benefits and the disabled (the Tories’ most recent targets).

Pensioners have been lined up as the next targets. They dominate the DWP’s social security spending, taking 68 per cent of the total amount.

Who’s next?

You, maybe.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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