Damning rise in rough sleeping could be down to Tory policy, Cabinet minister suggests

Posted On: 
24th December 2018

The Government has to ask itself whether it should shoulder the blame for the shocking increase in rough sleeping, a Cabinet minister has said.

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire
Credit: 
PA Images

James Brokenshire said the Tories must consider changes to policy after official figures showed the number of people who died on the streets last year had risen by a quarter since 2013.

The Office for National Statistics has recorded steadily rising homelessness since the Conservatives came to power in 2010 - including rough sleeping and those in temporary accommodation.

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Critics argue cuts to welfare and local services under the Tory austerity drive have fueled the rising numbers, with council funding slashed by around half since the Government took office.

Communities Secretary Mr Brokenshire just last week rejected the notion the homelessness spike could be down to Tory cuts.

But in an interview with Politico published today, he appeared to roll back and suggested decisions under David Cameron and now Theresa May could be a direct culprit.

“We do have to look and reflect on ourselves as to the increase,” the Cabinet minister said.

“Yes there are other factors that are relevant here, but we have to look at the policy - and I do think we need to look at changes to policy. I’ve already started, and others in government have done so too.”

On the issue of welfare cuts, he added: “I want to understand what the evidence is...

“That’s why we are doing work with the DWP to work and create a data set, a much better understanding of the influences between welfare changes and its impact in relation to homelessness.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Brokenshire said he does not give cash to people begging in the street due to mixed messages from homeless charities.

He said: “The charities I talk to say it should be up to someone’s individual choice… Other charities will say that by giving, you will sustain someone on the street, as they’re not able to get the help they need.”

But he added: “I will always buy a copy of the Big Issue if I come across a seller each week. I tend to give in that sort of way. People will do things in their own way.”

The Government this month set out its strategy to tackle rough sleeping and is pumping £1.2bn into attempts to solve the issue.

One scheme it is piloting in limited areas will see rough sleepers given stable housing more quickly as a platform to help them turn their lives around.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn thanked volunteers in homeless shelters as he raised the issue in his Christmas message.

He said: “I see the compassion of the Good Samaritan in people across our country everyday but especially at Christmas.

“Whether it’s people helping in homeless shelters offering comfort and meals for those looking to escape the freezing temperatures and dangers of sleeping rough.”