At the very extreme of the housing issues facing millions of people is homelessness, and the absolute desperation that results in people having to sleep on the streets.

Just think about that for a moment.  How bad would things have to be before you would resort to living on the streets?

Perhaps you’ve run out of friends willing to let you sleep on their sofa; perhaps you have no family, or are estranged through abuse or relationship breakdown. Perhaps you’re suffering from mental health issues such as PTSD (ex-servicemen feature disproportionately among those sleeping rough), perhaps your benefits have been sanctioned and you’ve lost your home through rent arrears.

There are of course as many different stories as there are people, but the government’s policies over the last five years have made the problem much worse.

Cuts to benefits, including the bedroom tax, disability benefits, and the more stringent enforcement of “sanctions” has pushed many people who were just getting by, into destitution. And once there, it’s extremely difficult to get into secure housing. People are stuck in a vicious circle of poverty. Unable to get a home without a job, and unable to get a job without a home. Unable even to adequately feed and clothe themselves. Frankly unable to live any kind of a life.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) the number of evictions has increased year on year. In contrast the number of mortgage repossessions has reduced to its lowest level for 10 years.

Of course not everyone who is homeless is on the street, the needs of the hidden homeless, people sofa surfing, adults living with parents in overcrowded conditions, compound the housing crisis. But as an indicator of the state of crisis in housing, the number of rough sleepers is important.

In 2010, the number of people sleeping on the streets was 1768, that is 1768 more than there should be. However, moving forward to 2016 there were 4134 sleeping rough on the streets of England, on any given night. In the short time that the Conservative party have been in power they have more than doubled the number  of rough sleepers and don’t seem to be trying to combat the problem. In the last year 2015-16 the increase has been a staggering 30%.

In 2011, under the conservative government, a change in the law saw homeless people being housed in insecure private rented homes, making the chance of them ending up back on the streets more than likely, because these are short-hold tenancies which can just be ended after 6 or 12 months by the landlord.  The impact of this is clear if you look at the JRF figures on reasons for eviction.

Rough sleepers are thirteen times more likely to be the victim of violence than the general population (Crisis – Living in Fear), they have an average life expectancy of just 47 and the main cause of homelessness is relationship breakdown. Labour has pledged to build 4000 permanent new flats and houses which will be reserved for the homeless, the homes would be let at an affordable price through social landlords.

This is a small part of the overall housing pledge Labour has put forward, but it’s a very specific policy which has been costed. In contrast the Tories have done nothing to address this growing problem, and indeed many of their policies have made it worse.

Rough sleeping is a scandal in a modern, wealthy country like the UK. Labour believes everyone has a right to a secure home.


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