Five ‘giant evils’ of 1940s still exist for today’s homeless

Rough sleeper with Outreach Worker

The welfare state was established to fight the five ‘giant evils’ Lord Beveridge identified in his 1942 report. 70 years on, is the welfare state just as spritely when it comes to vanquishing those giant evils? Denis, from St Mungo’s client representative group Outside In, doesn’t think so: “The five evils are still evils in today’s society. They still continue.” Tanya English, St Mungo’s Executive Director of Communications, examines some client perspectives and considers our response…

Giant evil #1: Squalor

Beveridge wanted to break the cycle of poverty, where health problems caused by inadequate housing restricted people’s ability to work. Today, thousands of people still end up sleeping on the streets each year:

“On many occasions I woke up and I’ve been covered in snow” Mark, 37

“When I woke up sometimes, my foot would be so frozen that I wouldn’t move it until it proper thaws out because it felt like I had frost bites and my hands were hurting because it was so cold” Michael, 31

Giant evil #2: Ignorance

Beveridge thought that higher social classes were ignorant of the problems affecting communities. Our clients still experience this prejudice:

“[Homeless people are] treated bad. Low life, dirty junkie, prostitutes, worthless dogs, but we’re not. We haven’t committed a crime; we’ve just had a bit of bad luck and made a terrible mistake, you know?” Linda, 52

“I think people who have problems with the homeless…whatever problems they’ve had, however they end up that way; I personally think [people] should consider them a bit more. Whether you’re homeless or not you’re still human beings at the end of the day. We are all still human beings.” Leon, 36

Giant evil #3: Want

Beveridge was concerned with ensuring everyone in society had what they needed to survive. Unfortunately, many people who are homeless feel they have to resort to crime just to be able to eat:

“[Homelessness] actually turned me to crime and…I’m a bit ashamed because I’ve caused a lot of damage to properties having to steal lead and that was just to survive… when you get your dole money if it doesn’t last or you get robbed, you’re going to find it very, very, very hard. I found that very, very difficult to, you know, to get a meal most days.” Stuart, 44

Giant evil #4: Idleness

Beveridge called for training and work centres to be set up across the country to help everyone find a job. Although many people who are homeless would prefer to work, many still struggle with overcoming bureaucratic hurdles:

“[When] you do go for a new job you say, ‘I’ve been homeless; this is why I’ve been out of work’, they just say, ‘What have you been doing?’” Michael, 30

“I was at the job centre. Loads and loads of work, but it was the same answer every time I picked the phone up, ‘We need proof of your address in London’” Jason, 39

Giant evil #5: Disease

Beveridge believed that tackling health issues was central to helping people out of poverty. Health is a significant barrier to work for a number of people who we help:

“I’ve nearly been killed three times doing [prostitution]. I’ve been raped doing it. I’ve… as a result of that I got HIV doing it.” Angela, 38

“Some people don’t understand [depression]… A lot of the time I have kept myself to myself. It’s only recently I’ve started to push myself out there a bit more. But even still there’s stigma. Any hint that you’ve got this, especially when I’ve been in the mental hospital, people think straight away strait jackets; nutjob.” Michael, 30

At a time of great financial uncertainty, Britain’s welfare system was set up to direct limited resources towards those who needed them most. Now in the middle of another financial crisis 70 years later, those who are most vulnerable are still tumbling through the gaps in the safety net to the streets below. Our response must be to strengthen the net, not cut more holes.