Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons

Homelessness is a scourge on our society - we can end it and we must: South London Press column

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We are all starting to see more people sleeping rough on the streets and park benches. Since 2010 the number of people forced to sleep outside has increased by 169% and is now at its highest level ever.

Under the last Labour government, years of sustained action reduced rough sleeping by 75%, but much of that progress is being undone. In every year since we left government the numbers have risen steeply. More than 1,137 people are now sleeping rough in London alone, almost the same as for the whole of England in 2010.

Less visible forms of homelessness are also rising. 300,000 people are living in temporary accommodation or ‘sofa-surfing’ while their council tries to find them somewhere to live. The number of children staying with their families in hostels has risen by 70% under the Tories to over 120,000.  Insecure, unstable accommodation can be deeply damaging. I’ve helped a number of families where despite both parents are working but due to spiraling rents they can’t keep up with payments and end up homeless, sharing a room in a hostel with their children, often having to share bathrooms with other families, their children facing long journeys from the new hostel to school or even being uprooted to new schools entirely.

As well as the chronic lack of decent, safe and affordable housing, people become homeless for a number of complex reasons, including mental health problems, family breakdown, addiction, benefit changes or unemployment – and the current scourge of homelessness is made worse by Tory cuts to vital services that support vulnerable people in times of crisis.

Mental health services are understaffed and stretched to breaking point. Services to help people overcome drug and alcohol addiction have had almost half of their funding cut since 2010. In England more than 30 refuges for women and children escaping domestic violence have closed since 2010, with 155 women a day turned away and left homeless because of lack of space.

Increasing numbers of people are unable to work or get support due to Home Office delays in processing their immigration applications and the government’s shambolic Universal Credit scheme with an in-built delay of 6 weeks has left people without money to pay their rent and facing eviction.

Southwark Council is working hard to support people and reduce homelessness. They are spending £3m this year on outreach services and are working with charities, such as St Mungo’s, to provide overnight food and shelter. But the government has cut Southwark’s budget by 60% by the government since 2010 and however excellent their support services are they will not be enough to replace what has been lost.

No one should have to wonder where they are going to sleep tonight, or live with the fear that comes with insecure or temporary housing and Labour is committed to ending rough sleeping. We are demanding the government provide 8,000 affordable homes for people with a history of sleeping on the streets, restore council budgets, ring-fence mental health funding and halt damaging welfare cuts. The scale of homelessness is a scourge on our society – we can end it and we must.

 

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