Photograph from the Granada studio
Photograph from the Granada studio

Last night I appeared on the ITV Granada Debate to discuss homelessness with Chris Green MP and a Poppy Terry from Shelter.  You can view the debate here:

Under the current government, we have seen rocketing homelessness, with the number of families stuck in temporary accommodation growing each year.  Indeed, official figures confirm that, having previously fallen under Labour, the number of people sleeping rough on our streets increased by 169% between 2010 and 2017.  Inexcusably, over 120,000 children are living without a home, in temporary accommodation in England.

These changes have been keenly felt in the North West.  Between 2008 and 2018, the total number of households in temporary accommodation across the region rose from 1,360 to 2,560.  In Bolton alone, the number has nearly doubled.  Problems have only been worsened by the roll-out of Universal Credit, a callous, poorly-conceived policy which has pushed many into desperate financial uncertainty.

Faced with mounting criticism, the Conservative party has committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it by 2027.  To do this, Philip Hammond set up the Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce in his Autumn Budget.  This ties in with the Homelessness Reduction Act of 2017 which came into force in April this year.  While welcoming this legislation as an important step, homelessness charities have repeatedly warned that unless further funding is provided it fails to address the underlying causes of this issue.  Despite the failure of a private rented tenancy now being the single most common cause of homelessness, the Conservatives have repeatedly ignored calls to increase security for private renters.  Furthermore, they’ve withdrawn from building new affordable homes, so the number has fallen to the lowest level in 24 years.

This is part of a wider picture which shows a continual movement away from home ownership.  Under the last Labour administration, the number of home-owning households rose by a million.  Unsurprisingly, the Conservative government quickly reversed this trend, with the proportion of people who own their own home currently at a 30 year low.  Coming from a party which claims to be on the side of homeowners, the disparity between the lofty rhetoric of the Conservative party and the entirely predictable outcome of their policies could not be more clear.

We feel it is crucial to emphasise that these are soluble issues.  Finland has seen great success with its Housing First scheme which is currently being piloted in several UK cities.  Indeed in Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham’s inspirational SIB (Social Impact Bond) initiative is indicative of an increasing awareness that this is an area which needs a radical, cohesive approach.  This is a pioneering scheme which equips rough sleepers with the skills to help themselves in the long-term.

On a national level, what is needed is carefully targeted, progressive investment.  The previous Labour government put in a huge £19 Billion investment into housing, a long overdue investment after chronic underfunding under the previous administration.  Homelessness was cut by two-thirds under Labour and the number of people sleeping rough fell by three-quarters.  Now, we recognise that we can go further.  Rather than the cosmetic approach favoured by the Tories, we have proposed a New Deal on Housing.  This will help first-time buyers, stop leaseholders being ripped off and make three-year tenancies the new norm.  Most importantly we will build houses, constructing at least a million new homes over five years.  As part of this, we will make sure that at least 100,000 genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy are built a year by the end of the next Parliament, including the biggest council housebuilding programme in more than 30 years.

The Conservative proposals are too little, too late.  We feel that homelessness can be ended within a single parliament and have committed to doing this when in government.

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