Britain’s homelessness crisis needs more than random pots of money, it needs a serious strategy
A first step the Government must now take to tackle homelessness is scrapping the Vagrancy Act and end the criminalisation of homeless people, writes Alex Cunningham MP.
There are not many people in the country who could claim that they have never seen a person sleeping rough, or even that they do not see people sleeping rough on a regular basis. In my constituency of Stockton North, there are rough sleepers, but the numbers are tiny in comparison to what I see when I arrive at work in Westminster.
Whether you agree that it should be or not, Parliament is the formalised centre of power in this country and people sleeping rough right outside its doors is a sight that should shame us all. Westminster tube station is used by some rough sleepers for shelter and walking into work each morning, the piles of belongings and used bedding are there for all to see. But be under no illusion – the rise of rough sleeping in this country is a repercussion of political choices and government priorities.
Over the past four years, few things have got national attention other than Brexit – meaning that homelessness has not been able to be centre stage and get the attention that it needs. There have been announcements of small bits of money here and there. But the funding available is a drop in the ocean of what has been taken away from local authorities’ homelessness budgets over the years. This isn’t the Government acting on homelessness, but the Government failing to even fill the hole in support that their party created in the first place.
Whilst we need to actively get people off the street into safe shelter, we also need to tackle the causes of homelessness. From unaffordable private rents and short-term tenancies, to a severe lack of affordable housing and clear pathways to help people such as veterans and survivors of domestic violence and LGBT young people into secure and affordable housing. It doesn’t end with putting people already sleeping rough on the streets in safe shelter – it is an ethos that must run through government where we look at prevention as well as resolution. It is this vision and this ethos that runs through Labour policy on tackling homelessness.
Our manifesto pledge to build over a million genuinely affordable homes over a decade would have provided the security and stability that many people on low or no wages need in this country. Our party’s belief in the “cradle to grave” mantra where we have a Government that steps up and takes responsibility when the support and infrastructure isn’t there to allow people to help themselves. Every Government should be marked by the level of homelessness from when they entered office to when they left it. As of January last year, there had been a 165% rise in rough sleeping since 2010 – proof that the Conservatives have let down some of the most vulnerable in this country.
This crisis needs more than random pots of money. It needs a serious strategy, using the expertise from organisations such as St Mungo’s, Shelter, Crisis, and many other homelessness organisations up and down this country who do incredible work both supporting homeless people and lobbying Government. A first step the Government can make now is scrapping the Vagrancy Act and end the criminalisation of homeless people.
Tough problems need tough action, and this is what Labour will continue to fight for.
Alex Cunningham is a Labour Member of Parliament for Stockton North.