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The National Scandal Of Rising Rough Sleeping Shows The Need For A Labour Government

25/01/2017 16:45
ANDREW YATES via Getty Images

It's become an iron law of politics that a Conservative government means rising homelessness. But even those who remember the street sleeping epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s will be shocked by today's rough sleeping figures which show the extent of soaring street homelessness since 2010, after it had been cut right down under Labour.

Over the last six years the number of people sleeping on our streets has more than doubled, up 50% in the last two years alone, and is now rising more rapidly in our towns and cities beyond London. This is in addition to the households accepted as homeless by local councils which has risen to almost 60,000 last year.

When the Prime Minister talked of a 'shared society', few thought that she meant people sharing shop doorways and street corners for want of a place to stay.

The hard truth for Tory Ministers is that these shocking figures are a direct result of decisions they have made: crude cuts to housing benefit and charity funding, not enough help for private renters, and last year the lowest level of affordable housebuilding in 24 years.

The contrast between what has happened on homelessness since 2010 and what happened before that under the Labour government couldn't be starker. In one of its biggest forgotten successes the last Labour government reduced rough sleeping by around three-quarters. We set out a comprehensive intervention plan, ground-breaking legislation, fresh investment, and a target to cut rough sleeping by two-thirds - delivered a year early.

Before Christmas I set out Labour's pledge to clear up the Tories' mess again when we return to government again - ending rough sleeping within a parliament and doubling the capacity of a housing scheme ring-fenced for people with a history of rough sleeping. You can't help the homeless if you don't build the homes, and under Labour's plan 4,000 additional housing association homes would be earmarked for rough sleepers to help them move out of hostels and rebuild their lives, with government funding new social rented homes to replace them.

This first step to tackle the scandal of spiralling homelessness would renew a stalled programme started by a Conservative housing minister, Sir George Young, in the early 1990s. Homelessness can and should be a cross-party commitment, with a new national will to solve the growing problem.

Beyond that, tackling this growing homelessness scandal will require us to get to grips with the root causes of the problem. I've set out before how a Labour government could build 100,000 new affordable homes a year to rent and to buy, paid for by housing benefit savings.

We also need to give private renters more protection to stop the growing number of people who become homeless after their private tenancy runs out or they're evicted by their landlord. And to take a hard look at cuts to housing benefit, and changes under universal credit, which are putting families behind on their rent and at risk of homelessness.

The Conservatives have no-one to blame for their record on homelessness but themselves. To turn the tide and end the national scandal of rough sleeping, will once again take a Labour government.

After seven years of failure, Ministers are set to relaunch their housing policy with a new white paper. Ending the scandal of homelessness must be at the heart of it.

John Healey is the Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne

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