In 2014 1 in 10 charities supporting homeless people in London disappeared

There are fewer and fewer charities supporting homeless people in London and a handful of larger charities are doing the lions share of the work.

Last year alone 1 in 10 charities supporting homeless people in London disappeared. They were almost all swallowed up by larger organisations. According to the London Housing Foundation, there are now 122 charities supporting homeless people in London (down from 133 a year ago).

Of the slightly over 13,000 beds in specialist hostels in London roughly a third are now delivered by just three organisations: St Mungo’s Broadway, Look Ahead Care and Support, and YMCA (West London and South London).

Of the nearly 8,000 people who receive ‘floating support’ in London, over 80% receive that support from either SHP, One Housing or Look Ahead. If you are homeless in London and receiving floating support the chances are that you will be receiving it from someone who works for one of these three organisations.

This is not to say that large charities will deliver a better or worse quality of support to homeless people than smaller organisations. However, there is a risk that as local government budgets are cut further we will see these trends continue. There will be further consolidation within the sector, with fewer and fewer charities supporting homeless people. The larger organisations will dominate provision to an even greater extent.

This could lead to less innovation at exactly the time when the sector will need to be coming up with creative solutions to the innumerable problems faced by the growing number of homeless people in London.

Gentrification is not for everyone

Something, like nothing, happens anywhere, Larkin once wrote.

He wasn’t writing about gentrification but perhaps the sentiment applies.

Many writers are tempted to suggest that examples of gentrification and displacement in certain London neighbourhoods tells us a lot about what is happening throughout London.

For a classic example of this genre see this recent piece in the NewStateman.

A recent piece in The Atlantic makes quite a different argument, claiming that in 22 of the 55 biggest cities in America, including San Diego, Charlotte, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Detroit, gentrification affected 5 or less percent of all neighbourhoods.

What’s the situation in London? How widespread is gentrification?

Here is a map of London in 2011. Neighbourhoods that are dark red have a higher percentage of residents that work in routine or semi-routine occupations (all data from the census).


Here is a map of London in 2001.


The picture is pretty clear. In large parts of East and West London and parts of North and South London there are lots of neighbourhoods where a large number of people work in routine or semi-routine jobs.

However, in inner London, near the Thames and to the West, there are neighbourhoods in which there are very few residents who work in routine jobs.

In contrast, here is a map of London in 2011. The neighbourhoods that are coloured darker blue are home to a higher percentage of residents that work in senior management positions.


Here is a map of London in 2001.


Again, the picture is pretty clear.  In Inner West London and bit of suburbs in the North and South there are neighbourhoods in which there are quite a high percentage of residents who work as senior managers. In large parts of East and West London there are numerous neighbourhoods in which very few residents work in senior management positions.

In both cases, what is striking is not an image of constant change but of continuity.

So what? It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Barking and Dagenham has lots of residents that work in routine jobs and Kensington & Chelsea has lots of senior managers.

A few observations follow;

  • Even if you believe that attracting new rich residents to your neighbourhood is the best way of regenerating it, ultimately this strategy cannot work for most neighbourhoods in London because there simply aren’t enough rich people to go round.
  • Gentrification is a curious mixture of the global and the local. International developments such as the march of the knowledge economy interact with specific neighbourhood traits such as transport infrastructure. This probably means that well resourced Local Authorities are best positioned to be the principle public agency that manages the process of gentrification (not national or city government) and to ensure that any wealth created can be shared equally.
  • Perhaps most importantly, we need strategies of neighbourhood improvement and community development that rely on building on the strengths in working class neighbourhoods since these will always be a large part of London life.

Sharp elbows and controlled rents

The news that rents in London will soon be double what people pay in the rest of the country has led to a campaign to get the Mayor of London take action.

This comes at the same time as a highly commented on article in the American magazine The Atlantic on rent controls. The argument is a familiar one but is worth re-stating;

at best, rent control does little harm but probably not much good and, at worst, it has negative impacts on landlords and tenants.


I have already written here about the fact that too much discussion of rent controls does not consider the importance of public housing. In short, having rent controls and little to no public housing is very different to having rent controls and well funded public housing.

But it’s also worth noting that there are different varieties of rent controls. New York city, for example, is famous for having some apartments that are “rent controlled” and others that are not. What effect does this have?

This study found that tenants in rent controlled properties were not anymore likely to be on low incomes than tenants in other properties. The authors also looked at how much money different types of people saved by getting rent controlled properties. They found that middle class households  saved a lot more on rent by securing rent controlled units (when compared to other middle class households) than lower income households did.

This is an important aspect of partial or voluntary legislation. When there are no rules controlling access and when take up is voluntary or partial middle class households often disproportionally benefit.

Take the example of conservation areas. The idea behind conservation areas is that certain areas have distinct or special architecture and therefore additional restrictions apply when developing new houses or altering existing one.

An area is designated as a conservation area through a complex set of negotiations. Often middle class home owners are better at pressing for this designation. They are then rewarded by increased property prices. In fact, a recent report by English Heritage found that houses in conservation areas sell for 37% more than other houses.

Similarly, while it is still early days for ‘neighbourhood planning‘ based on my own experiences in Camden, I would hazard a guess that more middle class areas are further along with developing neighbourhood plans. I would also guess that in mixed income areas middle class views on what should be included in the plans is taking precedent over the views of working class residents.

What does this mean for rents in London?

I think it means that there is a risk that middle class households will disproportionally benefit from reforms which lead to some properties being rented out at controlled prices while others are not, if there is no control over who gets these tenancies.