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Spare a little change, Gov? On World Homeless Day, Government must not walk on by

3 min read

New research now suggests more than eight homeless people are dying each week in the UK. Ministers are walking on by as their inaction contributes to this sickening death toll, says Neil Coyle MP.

In February, a 37 year old rough sleeper died on Parliament's doorstep. Marcos had been sheltering at Westminster tube station for some time and was known to local agencies. I co-chair the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ending Homelessness and called for change to Government policies which have caused homelessness to rise every year since Cameron and Clegg entered Downing Street. Eight months after Marcos' death andnew research now suggests more than eight homeless people are dying each week in the UK. Ministers are walking on by as their inaction contributes to this sickening death toll.  

Almost 5,000 people sleep rough every night in our country, particularly in constituencies like mine which includes London Bridge station and major tourist attractions where the high footfall elicits the spare change to fund the most meagre of existences. The Homelessness Minister promised to resign if the problem continued to rise. I suspect this letter needs drafting soon as the Government's rough sleeping strategy is an empty vessel, containing a handful of pilot initiatives and no new funding to address the challenge.  

Ministers mouth their manifesto commitment to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027 but continually fail to act. Eight years of Tory and Coalition policies, including ending some disability benefits and cuts to mental health services, have created the levels of homelessness we now witness in every town and city up and down the country. Ministers beg for nine more years to eradicate the outcome of their own handicraft. We cannot afford this pitiful pace and nor can those sleeping on our streets today. The average age of death of rough sleepers is 47 for men and 43 for women. Too many people sleeping rough today will not survive to see whether Ministers meet their target in 2027.

The Government pilots also only focus on rough sleeping. Ministers are deliberately ignoring the issue of hidden homelessness, from sofa surfing to hostels. Last year 130,000 children spent Christmas in temporary accommodation and it is unlikely this figure will have dropped at all a year later.

The limited pilots announced to tackle rough sleeping completely fail to address causes of homelessness. They might help prevent a tiny minority from spending two nights in a row on the streets but do not provide any long-term solutions. The need for easier access to mental health services and drug and alcohol cessation treatments for example. Investing in genuinely affordable and social housing. Ending the horrific consequences of Universal Credit delays, benefit sanctions and cuts to already disadvantaged disabled people. There is no corner of Britain that has not witnessed the outcomes of these policies, signed off under Cameron and Clegg's bromance but with their brutal impact still hitting vulnerable people.

The horrific growth in rough sleepers dying on our streets is, sadly, no coincidence. All politics is about priorities and since 2010 the Coalition and Conservative Governments have prioritised tax cuts for people earning over £150,000 a year as well as corporations, and have failed to properly regulate or tax the gig economy. At the same time, the most vulnerable have lost access to critical direct support and services. The growth in homelessness is a direct consequence.  

Winter is approaching and deaths on our streets will rise further if the Chancellor does not take effective action in the Budget later this month. If the Prime Minister's announcement that ‘austerity is over’ is not a joke, then the Government must spare a little change. 

Neil Coyle is the Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark

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