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Tom Copley Headshot

A 21st Century Scandal

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There is no more visible and tragic sign of the failure of housing policy than people sleeping rough on our streets. It is a scandal that in the twenty-first century, in one of the richest cities in the world, there are people still forced to sleep rough on London's streets.

In 2009 Boris Johnson made a bold pledge to end rough sleeping in London by the end of 2012. He reiterated this pledge during his re-election campaign in May this year. Yet with a little over a month to go until his self-imposed deadline he admitted to me at Mayor's Question Time last week that he will not succeed.

The number of people sleeping rough on London's streets has increased every year since Johnson took office in 2008. According to Broadway, the number of people seen sleeping rough more than doubled between 2008 and 2012, whilst the number of people seen sleeping rough more than once jumped by more than a quarter. This second statistic is even more troubling given the mayor's No Second Night Out Scheme, which is supposed to ensure that no one found sleeping rough will sleep out for more than one night. In June, the mayor told my colleague Nicky Gavron that the No Second Night Out scheme was "working well". Something is clearly going very wrong.

As is so often the case, the mayor is full of warm words and grandiose promises, but totally lacking in leadership. The mayor has nearly £34 million to tackle rough sleeping over four years. Worryingly, around £5 million of that is reportedly missing from his budget and unaccounted for.

The government's decision to cut the Supporting People budget, given to local authorities to fund services such as hostels, by 11% has only compounded the problem. Across London twelve hostels or day centres have closed and there are 784 fewer bed spaces.

Johnson is very good at big announcements and warm words. But the bolder the pledge, the more serious the issue, the more important it is that you deliver. While campaigning for re-election just six months ago the mayor was confident that he would fulfil his pledge. When I pressed him as to precisely when he realised he would not be able to fulfil it, he said he could not give me an answer. Some may well conclude from this that he knew full well during the election that he would not be able to deliver on his promise but campaigned on it anyway.

Boris Johnson has shown an astonishing lack of leadership on this issue. It took him more than a year following the consultation to publish his framework for the commissioning of services for people who sleep rough, meaning services have been running on an ad hoc basis. With such a laid back approach is it any wonder that there are 2,000 more people sleeping rough on London's streets than when he took office?