Rising homelessness is a national scandal

The Tories’ cuts are leading to support for the homeless being axed at the same time as rough sleeping increases, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.

IT WAS revealed this week that the number of shelter beds for homeless people has dropped by almost a fifth under the Tories, with budget cuts meaning that England now has enough beds for less than half of those who need them.

With around 77,000 single people estimated to be homeless on any given night, it means that there are now only enough beds for less than half the homeless.

In a situation where homelessness and rough sleeping has increased by 169 per cent since the Tories came to power with their austerity agenda in 2010, for the government to oversee a situation where the number of beds in homeless shelters is plummeting at the same time as homelessness soars is nothing short of a national scandal.

The figure for people being declared homelessness is up by 48 per cent since 2010 and the number rough-sleeping has risen by that shocking 169 per cent.

Some experts believe that more than 100,000 households are set to be homeless by 2020 and it’s a grim reality that the number of homeless people dying has more than doubled in five years.

The Homeless Link charity revealed this week that there were more than 8,000 fewer bed spaces for single homeless people in England than there were in 2010 and it reported a 3 per cent decrease in the last year.

The blame for this clearly lies with the government’s austerity agenda, which means funding cuts and local councils consistently having to tighten their belts due to the government passing on massive cuts to them. Local councils have had their budgets cut by an average of 40 per cent, with further cuts on the way in the years to come.

Furthermore, Labour analysis has shown that austerity cuts to local government are hitting areas with the highest amounts of homelessness the hardest and that of the 10 council areas with the highest levels of homelessness in the country, nine are controlled by Labour and one by the Conservatives.

A specific example of the effects of Tory austerity is the government’s Supporting People programme, a major source of support and funding for shelters for the homeless. This has been cut by 59 per cent since 2010 and its ring fence removed.

As Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, says, “This decline is very concerning given that levels of single homelessness and rough-sleeping have risen every year over the same period. People who become homeless are extremely vulnerable and continued investment in homelessness services is vital to ensure individuals receive swift and effective support to help end their homelessness for good.”

He also pointed to how the severe lack of appropriate low-cost housing is preventing people from “moving on from homelessness to supported housing once they are ready, causing a silt-up effect that denies others a much-needed bed space.”

Additionally, it was revealed that Tory benefit cuts and changes have sparked a shocking rise in homeless young people aged between 16 and 24 by affecting their ability to access and sustain housing. Homeless Link found that 92 per cent of respondents to their survey identified delayed Universal Credit payments as having an impact on youth homelessness.

The homelessness crisis is the sharp end of a deepening housing crisis, which the Tories have no solutions for. Each week sees more illustrations of the scale of the housing crisis, yet the Tories response is simply to bury their heads in the sand and continue with their ideologically driven austerity agenda.

Astonishingly, amid the growing criticism of their response to the homelessness crisis, the government set up a cross-departmental task force on the issue, but then it emerged that it had taken almost four months for the group to hold its first meeting.

Homelessness fell under Labour but has risen relentlessly since 2010 and this is a result of political choices and priorities.

More than ever we need a government that puts people first. These callous Tories need to go and we need a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government that will both tackle homelessness and take real action on the housing crisis through creating a dedicated housing ministry, tasked with building a million new homes in five years, including half a million council homes.

In the weeks ahead, the key step to achieving this is to get the highest possible vote for Labour in May’s council elections and send a message to the Tories that their vicious cuts agenda needs to end.

First published by the Morning Star.