Rough Sleeping is up, but it is only the tip of the iceberg

HOW LONG can a crisis of your own making be left to grow before you start taking responsibility? The latest stats show that rough sleeping has increased again in the last year. In fact rough sleeping has increased every year under the Tories. The facts are that the Tories have done too little to repair a broken housing market of their own making, and cut too deep into the support available to help low income households. 

Rough Sleeping Stats
Rough Sleeping is not just confined to London – it is a growing issue across the North West too. Ref: Homeless Link.

Across England rough sleeping has increased from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,751 last year. While London bears the brunt of the housing and homelessness crisis, Greater Manchester has seen shocking and visible increases in rough sleeping increasing from 41 in 2010 to 268 last year. It is worth remembering that these figures are likely to be a significant underestimation too.

Earlier this week Sajid Javid (who is in charge of homelessness) implored Labour MPs to work with him to resolve homelessness. But under his Government we’ve seen a raft of policies that have swept the rug from under the feet of those on the brink of homelessness.

While Rough Sleeping is the very visible and shocking sign of a broken housing system it is merely the tip of the iceberg. We can’t ignore the many who are homeless and who rely on temporary accommodation, or the ‘hidden homeless’ who are, for example, staying with friends and family.

Too many working families are struggling to make ends meet because the cost of their housing is too high. Too many are trapped in an extortionate and insecure private rented sector. Too many are locked out of home ownership. And too few are able to access secure and affordable social rented housing.

Last year alone 5,657 people were accepted as homeless in Greater Manchester often staying with friends or families, a high number affected by bad landlords, welfare cuts and delays to benefits. Our councils are struggling too with huge cuts from central government.

Councils are on the frontline of this crisis, and new money from the government to prevent homelessness is welcome. Councils have responded positively by both increasing spend on homelessness services and putting in place a new approach to prevention.

But the reality is that the structural problems in the housing market – like those mentioned above –  far outweigh the relatively small pots of money offered by the Government. Meanwhile, councils face competing pressures to fund vital services – such as homelessness and social care – while the Government slashes the overall money made available to them.

Councils – in particular Labour councils – are trying to build the social housing required to provide an affordable and stable home to everyone. But until the government stops tying councils hands on this issue, we’ll never see house building at anywhere near the level required to stop homelessness in its tracks.

Thanks to this Tory government we have the lowest number of social rented homes on record, and home ownership is down by 200,000. Compare this to when Labour were last in Government – we built two million more homes, there were a million more home owners and there was the biggest investment in social housing for a generation.

What would we do differently? Labour would open up home ownership again for those who genuinely need it, for example by freezing stamp duty. We’d build 100,000 genuinely affordable rented homes a year. And we’d make the private rented sector affordable and secure, by ensuring that landlords offer three year tenancies and by capping rents in line with inflation.

We need to see a shift in the balance of power. Too much and public money is going into the hands of private landlords offering a poor service to tenants, some of whom will be evicted at short notice and be forced to approach their local council.

But we must also recognise that housing doesn’t function in isolation. There is a complex picture of employment, good pay, public service provision, such as mental health services, social care and community networks. All of these are critical to keeping a roof over people’s heads.

After 7 years of failure from the Tories we need real reform. Not just changes that barely skim the surface but fail to make the urgent impact we know our communities need.

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