Telford, the man who built bridges

It is often invigorating to read of high achievers who managed without the formal qualifications and training usually required. Such a man was Thomas Telford, born on August 9th, 1757. He built bridges - some 40 in Shropshire alone - yet at aged 14 it was to a stonemason he was apprenticed. He then worked in Portsmouth dockyard, and although untrained, was soon working on some of the major projects involving their design and management.

By the time he was 30 he was appointed Surveyor of Public Works in Shropshire. There is a telling anecdote that, when consulted by St Chad’s Church in Shrewsbury about their leaking roof, he warned them it could easily collapse. When it did so 3 days later, his reputation was enhanced.

Telford was just getting into his stride. He inspected Abraham Darby’s famous bridge at Ironbridge and thought he could do better. His own bridge, even though 30 foot wider in span, weighed only half as much. His most famous work is probably the Menai suspension bridge connecting Anglesey to the mainland. It was then the longest suspension bridge ever built, spanning 580 feet, and is regarded as a work of art, now listed as ‘Heritage.’

He constructed canals as well, notably the Ellesmere Canal and the Shrewsbury Canal. He did roads, too, including sections of the main Northern route from London to Holyhead. His friend, the Poet Laureate of the day, Robert Southey, dubbed him “The Colossus of Roads.” And he constructed the St Katharine Docks near Tower Bridge in London. He was elected the first President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, not bad for an unqualified lad from Scotland.

Such were the heady and exciting days of the early Industrial Revolution, that people could achieve great things if they had talent, ambition and determination. The Britain of the day fostered and rewarded such people, and had the courage to back them undertaking impressive things never done before. It was not conservative in the small “c” sense, but hungry for change that brought improvement.

It is very much a spirit that could be recaptured today. The planning laws that strangle development would have to be changed, as would the appeal procedures that allow a few obstinate opponents of change to tie things up for years in the courts. The tax system would need to be overhauled to allow people to gather the rewards of risk. Perhaps most of all, it would require a change in attitudes, one that would see people respect and admire giants like Telford, treating them as role models to inspire emulation, rather than trying to bring them down. It could all be done, and as the UK moves away from the bureaucracy that is Brussels, it might be done. All it would take is a country determined to make it happen.

There's a certain relation between different things here

We’re told that female entrepreneurs have it differently from male. The solution is, apparently, that more should be invested in the businesses of female entrepreneurs. However, there is a certain relationship being missed here:

Female entrepreneurs are more likely than men to take a salary cut when getting their own business off the ground, a survey has revealed.

The study found that women are more likely than their male counterparts to sacrifice their own income for the sake of getting a new business on a healthy footing.

It suggests that women are still struggling to attract investment into their firms and feel under more pressure to reinvest as much spare income as they have into the business.

The survey, by the small business investor Iwoca, also appears to show that women are less likely than men to sacrifice their family time when starting a company, suggesting they try harder than me to juggle their time in order to share it equally between work and their partner and children.

One possible - and reasonable, there is useful evidence on the point - explanation for this might be that more women start businesses in order to gain that greater family time. But let us leave such empiricism aside.

Concentrate upon the theory here. Starting a business isn’t easy and it requires significant investments of time. Those willing to invest less time in doing so gain access to less capital to do so. This is a surprise in what universe? Further, which reality requires a solution to it?

Francis Hutcheson, father of Scottish Enlightenment

The philosopher Francis Hutcheson is widely regarded as one of the early father figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, the blaze of talent and intellect that swept Scotland in the 18th and early 19th Centuries. He was born on August 8th, 1694, and died on the same day 50 years later. Although hugely influential in Scotland, where he made much of his career, he was in fact an Ulsterman, and was born there and died in Ireland.

Hutcheson was hugely influential on Adam Smith and David Hume, and other Enlightenment figures, many of whom attended his philosophy lectures in Glasgow, where he was the first professor to lecture in English instead of Latin.

 He was not a systems-builder, like both Smith and Hume, but his influence can clearly be seen in their subsequent thought. Hutcheson himself was influenced by Locke, from whom he took much of his empirical approach. He thought that there were no ‘innate’ ideas, but that the five physical senses were the sources of the information that we processed.

However, he also listed six non-physical ‘senses,’ referring to things we felt, including consciousness itself and a sense of beauty. His third one he called a “public sense,” which is "a determination to be pleased with the happiness of others and to be uneasy at their misery." This immediately stands out as what Smith called “sympathy” (and we would call “empathy”), and which lies at the core of Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759). This was the magisterial work of philosophy that made Smith famous many years before his “Wealth of Nations” was published in 1776.

The sixth of Hutcheson’s ‘senses’ was what he called “a sense of honour,” and it is that by which we seek to earn approval and to avoid blame. He said it is that "which makes the approbation or gratitude of others the necessary occasion of pleasure, and their dislike, condemnation or resentment of injuries done by us the occasion of that uneasy sensation called shame." Again, there is a clear thread running from that thought to Smith’s “impartial observer” that we construct in our minds to tell us how our behaviour will look to others.

Although Hutcheson published his essays anonymously, his authorship was widely known, and there were rumblings against him in the Church of Scotland. In 1738 the Glasgow presbytery challenged his belief that people can have a knowledge of good and evil without, and prior to, a knowledge of God. Hutcheson probably would not have faced the death penalty, since the last person to be so punished had been a 20-year-old student, Thomas Aikenhead, executed for heresy 43 years earlier, but he could have been sacked from his academic role had not influential friends supported him.

The Scottish Enlightenment was a remarkable phenomenon, which might have had its seeds in the 1707 Treaty of Union that gave Scots access to the British Empire and its economic possibilities. It might have been the defeat of the ‘15 and ’45 Jacobite rebellions that confirmed to Scots that they were not going back to a mediaeval world of kinship and kingship, but could embrace the new individualism that was sweeping the intelligentsia of Europe.

Wherever the roots of it might lie, Francis Hutcheson was one of the thinkers who laid its foundations and contributed to an intellectual heritage that is respected worldwide, and has greatly impacted upon modern thinking. Ironically, this tradition is one barely acknowledged, if it is at all, by Scotland’s current intellectual and political leaders.

We wouldn't insist but would we would suggest that people check their sources

According to George Monbiot it’s the flood of dirty, fossil fuel, money into politics and the public debate which means that nothing is being done about climate change. We’re even accused of being responsible ourselves. That must be why, when asked, we point out that the solution to the assumption that climate change is a problem is that carbon tax that Bill Nordhaus, Nick Stern and every other economist having a look at the problem suggests. You know, insisting upon the correct solution as devised by the settled science is so unhelpful, isn’t it?

A recent paper in Nature shows that we have little hope of preventing more than 1.5C of global heating unless we retire existing fossil fuel infrastructure. Even if no new gas or coal power plants, roads and airports are built, the carbon emissions from current installations are likely to push us past this threshold. Only by retiring some of this infrastructure before the end of its natural life could we secure a 50% chance of remaining within the temperature limit agreed in Paris in 2015. Yet, far from decommissioning this Earth-killing machine, almost everywhere governments and industry stoke its fires.

That recent paper is this one:

We estimate that, if operated as historically, existing infrastructure will cumulatively emit about 658 gigatonnes of CO2 (with a range of 226 to 1,479 gigatonnes CO2, depending on the lifetimes and utilization rates assumed). More than half of these emissions are predicted to come from the electricity sector; infrastructure in China, the USA and the 28 member states of the European Union represents approximately 41 per cent, 9 per cent and 7 per cent of the total, respectively.

We’re arrogant enough to think that we’ve some influence upon the political debate here in Britain. We’re not stupid enough to think that we influence the Chinese Communist Party.

Which is where we’d suggest that people check their own references. Because to work out a solution to a problem we’ve got to identify what the cause of it is. If it’s not fossil fuel money influencing public debate causing the problem then restrictions on that rather important freedom and liberty of speech aren’t going to solve it either, are they?

Happy birthday, James Randi

James Randi, born on August 7th, 1928, celebrates his 91st birthday today. So do we. Although he started out as a magician and escape artist, “The Amazing Randi” has devoted a large part of his life to exposing fraudsters and charlatans who claim psychic or paranormal powers. These include mediums, spiritualists, mind-readers and even a televangelist who used common conjurer’s tricks to convince his audience / congregation that he had divine powers.

Having been a stage magician himself, he can spot fakery more readily than others, and has publicly exposed fraudsters on television by subjecting them to rigorous tests in which he denies them access to the cheap tricks they use to deceive. Performing magicians who do not claim to be more than that are fine in his book. He reserves his skeptical ire for those who pretend real psychic powers and encourage the spread of pseudoscience.

Randi was a co-founder of the Committee for Skeptical Enquiry (CSI), whose early members included Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan. He has crossed swords with Uri Geller many times, readily performing the spoon-bending trick and even showing how it is done. He sees Geller as a con-man and fraud who dupes people for money and spreads belief in scientific quackery, to the detriment of public education. In 1991 Geller sued Randi and his group for $15 million for slander after Randi told the International Herald tribune that Geller fooled quite reputable people with the sort of cheap tricks that used to be found on the back of cereal boxes. The judge threw the case out when Randi produced in court a cereal box with instructions for performing the spoon-bending trick.

Although sued many times, Randi has "never paid even one dollar or even one cent to anyone who ever sued me," although he has spent large sums on legal fees to defend himself. A Japanese court once found against him on Uri Geller, but awarded him 0.33% of what Geller had requested, and even this was subsequently cancelled. According to James Alcock, a fellow member of CSI, when Randi repeated Geller’s spoon bending, a Buffalo University professor accused him of fraud. Randi replied,

 "Yes, indeed, I'm a trickster, I'm a cheat, I'm a charlatan, that's what I do for a living. Everything I've done here was by trickery."

The professor shouted back:

"That's not what I mean. You're a fraud because you're pretending to do these things through trickery, but you're actually using psychic powers and misleading us by not admitting it.”

In the 1960s, Randi’s New Jersey house had a sign out front that read, “Randi - Charlatan.” He exposed faith healer Peter Popoff live on the Johnny Carson Show in 1986 by playing a recoding he’d made by scanning the radio channel on which Popoff’s wife had sent him information about the audience from backstage to a hidden earpiece. Popoff had claimed the information was from God.

Randi holds two Guinness World Records from his days as an escapologist. He beat Harry Houdini’s record for staying in a sealed underwater casket for 1 hour 33 minutes, by doing it for 11 minutes longer, and he was once encased in a block of ice for 55 minutes.

He has campaigned tirelessly against fakery, trickery and pseudoscience, educating the public about how easy it is to grow rich by faking psychic powers to a public that wants to believe. His own survival to so advanced an age is a tribute to real science, in that he has survived coronary bypass surgery in 2006, colorectal cancer in 2009, and a minor stroke in 2017. Well done, James Randi. You’ve made the world less prone to pseudoscience and less gullible to conspiracists, flat earthers, lunar landing deniers and a host of peddlers of psychic nonsense. Have a great birthday, and hopefully a few more before you leave us.

If only Trump could grasp it - it's consumption that matters in trade, not production

Donald Trump has decided to declare China a currency manipulator, impose yet more taxes on Americans with the temerity to buy what they wish from where they wish. The obvious truth that tariffs are a change in the terms of trade, that therefore the yuan exchange rate should change being missed. So too the point that China hasn’t in fact intervened to cause the yuan to fall but stopped intervening to prop it up. Not doing anything is a pretty strange manner of actively causing something.

But beyond this is the simple foolishness of looking at trade from a production point of view. By chance an obituary offers a little story:

One evening in 1948 Rex Richards, a young Oxford scientist, found himself at High Table talking to a distinguished American guest. His fellow chemist, Linus Pauling, was soon to win not one but two Nobel prizes.

Richards told Pauling of his interest in the new field of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), a process in which nuclei of atoms emit a discernible electromagnetic signal when themselves subjected to a magnetic field. The phenomenon had first been observed by physicists. “I’d quite like to have a go at that,” he said, “but all my physicist friends say I’ll never make it work.”

“The one thing I’ve learnt in my life is never to pay any attention to what the physicists say,” Pauling replied.

“So,” Richards recalled, “I thought, ‘Well, why not?’ ” The decisive turn his career took that evening was to lead to work that greatly influenced the development of new applications for NMR. Perhaps the most familiar use of NMR is in the form of magnetic resonance imaging: medicine’s MRI scan.

That it was actually a pair of physicists who developed the actual MRI machine is just a little bit of fun here.

The point about trade being. The secret at the heart of one of these machines is a crystal - some 5 or 10kg - of lutetium oxide. Made by the same process, but otherwise in an entirely unalike manner, as we all used to grow copper sulphate crystals in stinks class. It is this which turns the changes in a magnetic field into variations in electrical current - it’s piezo magnetic we believe the phrase is - that can then be used to paint an image on a screen.

Two decades back these crystals were made in a factory in Texas. Pretty much all of them for the world - the plant used some 2 tonnes of lutetium a year, about 90% of global consumption at the time. There wasn’t anyone else using much of the stuff so no other production line.

At which point, what’s the important thing here? That some few jobs were located in Texas? Or that the world got cured by access to MRI machines? Or, more accurately, some subset of the world got diagnosed by them? Access to the machine is, we would submit, rather more important than who has made it. Which is indeed the point about trade. We gain access to what is made is the point of it. At which point trade wars over where things get made become redundant, positively harmful even, don’t they?

How cannabis legalisation can prevent violent crime

Yesterday, the Sun attempted to settle once and for all the debate on cannabis legalisation. Trumpeting a series of warnings that such a move would turn ‘a new generation into hard drug addicts’, the piece swiftly concluded that the UK would become the next Los Angeles, riven by violent crime fuelled (supposedly) by legal cannabis products. 

The evidence to support this, however, is rather dubious. Perhaps the most striking misinterpretation stands at the beginning of the piece, where a connection is drawn between the legalisation of cannabis in California and rising gang-related violence. A cursory glance at the FBI’s murder rate statistics shows that the homicide rate in California is indeed rising, and has been since 2010. But so have rates in almost every other state, with Louisianans taking the highest tally of eleven murders per thousand people, a place where cannabis is still illegal. Indeed, the use of only one sample city in the Sun’s report renders the findings more or less void even without resorting to contextualising statistics. In fact, studies of US border states where medical cannabis is available show a major reduction in violent crime, as well as localised reductions in crime rates corresponding to the locations of legal dispensaries. 

Inaccuracies raise their head very shortly afterwards with the blanket assertion that cannabis users are thrill seekers. This leads to the apparent conclusion that if the drug were to be made legally available, it would only be a short while before its users resorted to the illegal market again for other stronger substances like cocaine in order to feed their addictions. But the major function of cannabis as a gateway drug is simply through contact with illegal dealers, who are able to offer stronger and more dangerous drugs in an unregulated market. The assertion also ignores the wide range of uses that the product has, not least (as heavily reported by the Sun) as a treatment for epilepsy. 

Taxing higher potency cannabis at higher rates—a measure that could only be effective within a legal, regulated market—would allow the state to have some measure of control over the strength of the substance. It is estimated that the UK cannabis black market is worth approximately £2.6 billion, and even a small amount of tax revenue from this could fund measures to counter violent crime, from a greater police presence to counselling and healthcare measures to help the areas most affected by more damaging drugs. A study by Washington State University even connected legalisation with higher crime clearance rates, police resources being freed to tackle the root causes of crime. 

The act of decriminalisation alone would claw back huge amounts of money currently spent by the UK government prosecuting cannabis suppliers and users, and allow law enforcers to focus on genuine social issues. Labour MP David Lammy recently expressed concerns that many young people experience their first arrests through cannabis possession, acting as a gateway to violent crime. An early criminal record can also damage future prospects, tying young people into situations where further involvement with crime can be the only option. By contrast, in states like Canada where cannabis is legal and regulated, that early criminalisation can be avoided. 

Correlation, of course, is a very different thing to causation, and studies on the matter are resoundingly inconclusive. For every link drawn between cannabis and mental health issues, there is a response emphasising its benefits. If prescribed for the wrong condition it can, like many over-the-counter products, be harmful, but it has also been shown to have positive impacts on many conditions such as depression and PTSD at the forefront of modern medical research. In a similar vein, researchers at the University of British Columbia have theorised that it may have potential in the fight against opioid addiction, providing an effective substitute in order to reduce the harm caused by more dangerous substances. 

It is therefore clear to see that far from being a conduit to violent crime, legalising cannabis would help reduce it on several counts. It would also allow for the UK’s world-leading drugs industry to explore its potential in treating mental illness, as well as allowing police to work with affected communities and tackle violent crime at its source. Legalisation and regulation would turn cannabis from a gateway to crime into a crucial tool to prevent it, not only disassociating it from violent crime but turning it into one of our most powerful assets for prosperity and wellbeing. The naysayers should take note. 

The decision to bomb Hiroshima

On August 6th, 1945, a US B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, a single bomb equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT. Hiroshima was reckoned to be a contributor to Japan's war effort, though civilian and military facilities were intermingled, as they were throughout Japan.

The Manhattan Project that created the bomb was so secret that not even Vice-President Truman knew of its existence. However, within minutes of being sworn in following the death of President Roosevelt in April, Truman was given an urgent briefing about the impending weapon. The decision to use it was his alone, though his advisors supported its use, as did Winston Churchill. Truman had four choices. He could continue with conventional bombing of Japan, bombing that had killed an estimated 330,000 people and wounded a further 473,000 between April 1944 and August 1945. More than 80,000 people had died in a single fire-bombing of Tokyo, a greater number than those killed at Hiroshima. Truman later wrote,

“Despite their heavy losses at Okinawa and the firebombing of Tokyo, the Japanese refused to surrender.  The saturation bombing of Japan took much fiercer tolls and wrought far and away more havoc than the atomic bomb."

A second option was an invasion of Japan that would have killed millions, including an estimated 400,000 to 800,000 American dead and many more wounded. Iwo Jima had seen 6,200 US troops killed, and Okinawa had cost the lives of 13,000 US soldiers and sailors. The Japanese had fought fanatically, heedless of casualties, and US casualties at Okinawa had been 35%, with one in three participants killed or wounded. An attack on the mainland would, Truman thought, resemble "Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other." The prospect of the bodies of young Americans lying on its beaches and in its hillside jungles, motivated Truman to bring a decisive end to the war without that option.

There was the possibility of a test in an unpopulated area, maybe on an island, to demonstrate the bomb's power and induce Japan's surrender, but it was thought unlikely to achieve that objective. The US side wondered who on the Japanese side would assess the result, a single scientist, or a committee? And would the nation surrender what it saw as its honour on the word of so small a number? The US only had two bombs, so a test would have used half their nuclear arsenal. Truman's advisory committee told him, “We can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war."

Truman decided on a military use on a populated area, intending it to shock Japan into a surrender. It was not a decision he made lightly. He wrote, “My object is to save as many American lives as possible but I also have a human feeling for the women and children of Japan.” Nonetheless, he recorded that, "When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast.” When Truman announced the use of an atomic bomb to the world, he warned,

“We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war... If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.”

It took a second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th, to bring about Japan's surrender a week later. A 21-year-old American second lieutenant recalled,

"When news began to circulate that [the invasion of Japan] would not, after all, take place, that we would not be obliged to run up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being mortared and shelled, for all the fake manliness of our facades we cried with relief and joy.  We were going to live.  We were going to grow up to adulthood after all.”

Truman never regretted his decision. He made it and said, “That’s all there was to it.”

Chuka Umunna fails to understand incentives - par for the course

Quite what Chuka Umunna’s political beliefs are - other than Chuka Umunna - is somewhat difficult to divine. Other than the general belief that everyone needs to be told, hand-held, through what they wish to do. Centrists of no particular belief are often enough statists after all.

So, it comes as no surprise to find that Umunna doesn’t understand incentives.

Most firms that export only to the EU do not have the paperwork they need to carry on their business after a no-deal Brexit, government figures suggest.

Gosh, you mean bureaucracy and box ticking are an important part of trade with the EU? Who would have thought it?

In more detail:

Firms that export and import beyond the EU already have an EORI number, but registration has become a pressing issue for the 245,000 who trade internationally only within the EU. A no-deal Brexit would be particularly difficult for them because, instead of having current rules apply during a transition, they could find their trading opportunities shut down after 31 October without an EORI number.

Chuka Umunna, the former Labour MP who is now the Lib Dem Treasury and business spokesman after defecting to the party, said he had obtained figures from the government showing that just 66,000 of these traders had an EORI number. He said that at the current rate of progress it would take until 2021 for all firms to get the paperwork they need.

“These figures reveal that an overwhelming majority of UK exporters to the EU are unprepared for a no-deal Brexit and will not be in a position to deal with the mountain of red tape and bureaucracy it will burden them with on 31 October,” Umunna said.

“Pursuing a no-deal Brexit is a wholly irresponsible political choice of the new administration for which there is no mandate and which will put businesses and jobs at risk.”

Well, how big a problem is this? As the government itself says:

Apply for an EORI number

It takes 5 to 10 minutes to apply for an EORI number. You may get the number immediately, but it could take up to 3 working days if HMRC needs to make more checks.

That is, the number who don’t have a number on Monday October 28th could be a matter of mild concern. It isn’t today.

And why isn’t it? Because incentives. People tend to do what they need to do in order to carry on doing what they wish to do. There is no direct incentive today for small firms to apply for such a number. Come mid-October that incentive rather starts to appear. Therefore we expect the rate at which numbers are applied for to rise. Incentives matter, d’ye see?

What’s really needed to make Housing First work

8,855 people slept on London’s streets last year alone. This represented an 18% rise over previous years. It is almost inconceivable that now, in the most peaceful and prosperous era in history, in one of the world’s most developed countries, so many people are sleeping on pavement. 

This crisis is not for lack of solutions. Housing First, a policy idea first developed in New York by clinical psychologist Sam Tsemberis, has proven immensely successful and entirely rethinks traditional approaches to homelessness. Typically, housing programmes involve offering temporary, often not private, housing only on certain conditions; a person can only gain access to shelter after proving themselves ‘worthy’. These conditions often include proving budgeting skills or addressing mental health problems or addictions. Housing First does the exact opposite. It provides (semi-)permanent accommodation to those in need—prioritising the chronically homeless and those with the most damaging physical and mental illnesses and vulnerabilities—with no strings attached. It is rooted in the belief of housing as a right, not a reward, and an understanding that once a person has their dignity in the form of a safe, stable environment and a place to call their own, they are then much more capable of addressing other barriers to improving their lives, such as addictions and health issues. The end goal is eventually employment and an independent, stable life.

Housing First has proven extremely effective and become policy in places from Finland to Utah, nearly eliminating chronic homelessness, as discussed by the ASI previously here. The UK has followed in Finland’s footsteps and instituted Housing First as part of its ‘Homelessness Reduction Act’, passed on 27 April, 2017 and coming into law in one year later. In a one-year inquiry held on 23 April of this year however, the results were positive, but extremely limited for two reasons.

Firstly, largely because of the limited application of the programme, very few people actually knew how their rights to housing had changed under the Act. The inquiry concluded that only 6% of people approached their local council for housing help directly because of the Act (Q3). Secondly, the inquiry emphasised that “you cannot relieve homelessness unless you have a home to offer somebody or to help them into” (Q2). Where the Act was implemented, there was already a lack of social housing available—putting upward pressure on prices—and few alternatives for even relatively short-term accommodation. Thus, while the UK has taken the first proper steps towards addressing this crisis of basic rights, a much more holistic approach needs investment - something which I see being enacted through the investment in large-scale housing blocks or ‘villages’ of micro-homes. Similar ideas have been enacted across the US, including outside Ithaca, in San Francisco, and in Boston, to significant success. 

Invest in the construction of a large number of micro homes or apartments, clustered in ‘villages’ and with spaces to emphasize a sense of community and social involvement, but close to city centers and local resources to prevent a larger sense of social exclusion. Inexpensive architecture options such as pop-up ‘pods’ can help keep costs down. Each tenant is given their own space, complete with necessary amenities, and larger units are available for families. All the principles of Housing First are applied: tenants have contracts, pay up to 30% of their income towards their rent, and are never under threat of eviction. They are granted the dignity of their own safe and stable home, a community of others who have been through what they have, and, most crucially, access to support services including a GP, mental health services, a jobcentre, further tenancy support, and assistance with documentation such as obtaining an NI number, applying for jobs, and other steps towards independence. The housing would be ‘semi-permanent’, having no set end date, but with the explicit understanding that tenants will either move into social housing or the private rented market when able. 

By providing people with their most basic need—that of private shelter—we allow people a chance to reenter society as an active participant, not an observer from street level. And by providing people with the support they need, from a relatable community to social services all within accessible range, we provide them the best possible opportunity to do so. Much research has been done on the economics of this, and the costs always outweigh the benefits of increased economic output, a reduced drain on public resources such as NHS services, and fewer people going endlessly through ‘the system’. If the government invested in ‘villages’ such as these in all major cities across the country, they could join the club of societies which have all but eradicated homelessness through a compassionate and realistic approach; if people do not have homes, give them homes. Everything else will follow. 

Melissa Owens is a research intern at the Adam Smith Institute.