It is deeply concerning that homelessness and rough sleeping have both risen sharply since 2010. Indeed, while homelessness fell by 62% under the previous Labour Government (1998 to 2010), all forms of homelessness have risen since 2010, and rough sleeping has doubled in the last six years.
I believe the current Government’s record on homelessness and rough sleeping is shameful. I am concerned its failure on housing over the last six years has caused worry and misery for millions of people now struggling to with the cost of the housing crisis and facing higher rents, more homelessness, the lowest rate of home ownership in a generation, and fewer homes built than at any time since the 1920s. I believe the rise in homelessness can be traced directly to decisions taken by the Government which have led to big cuts in housing benefit support, cuts to funding for homelessness support services; and soaring private rents and the loss of affordable homes, with over 150,000 fewer council homes than in 2010. Before the election, I was Shadow Minister for abolishing the Bedroom Tax and I was horrified by the stories I heard.
As you may be aware, the Government’s Housing and Planning Act has recently made its way through Parliament and is now law (an Act). In the Bill’s final stages, I voted to support amendments that attempted to ensure like-for-like replacement of council homes which the Government is forcing councils to sell to fund the extension of the right to buy. Disappointingly, these amendments were opposed and defeated by the Government. I am concerned that there will be a big loss of genuinely affordable homes, with high-need areas of the country especially badly affected. I believe the Housing and Planning Act will do nothing to fix the causes of the six years of failure on housing under this Government, and I am concerned that in many areas it will make things much worse.
In his March 2016 Budget, the Chancellor pledged £115 million to help homelessness. However, this is not new money and I am concerned it will do very little to recover the funding that the Government is set to strip from homelessness hostels and other specialist housing. Indeed, the National Audit Office has found that funding for homelessness services was cut by 45% between 2010 and 2015. I believe the spiralling scale of homelessness shames us all when Britain is one of the richest countries in the world and I agree the Government must urgently address this and tackling the root causes of homelessness.
I am aware that charities such as Crisis and St Mungo’s are calling from reform to the law on homelessness in order to focus more on intervening early and on preventing homelessness. The Government stated in December 2015 that it would explore options, including legislation, to prevent more people from facing homelessness in the first place. However, the Government failed to include legislation on this in the Queen’s Speech on 18 May 2016. I will of course support any action that is bought forward. Unfortunately I was not selected from the ballot for Private Members bills.