Conservative austerity policies may have driven homelessness rise, housing secretary admits

James Brokenshire says government must ask itself 'some very hard questions' about welfare cuts

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Monday 24 December 2018 21:05
George Osborne denies his austerity caused homelessness crisis: ‘It's not a lack of money’

The housing secretary has admitted that austerity may have driven rocketing homelessness, in the wake of figures showing that almost 600 rough sleepers died in a year across England and Wales.

Asked whether the government was directly responsible for the rise, James Brokenshire told Politico: “We do have to look and reflect on ourselves as to the increase.

“Yes there are other factors that are relevant here, but we have to look at the policy.”

The Conservative MP, whose brief as secretary of state for housing, communities and local government covers homelessness, said the reasons forcing people onto the streets were “complicated”.

Mr Brokenshire said the government had to “ask ourselves some very hard questions … for example in relation to the introduction of changes to welfare”.

He insisted money had been invested to guide people through benefit changes but asked “whether we’ve done enough there”.

Civil servants are looking at data showing the potential impact of welfare cuts on homelessness, Mr Brokenshire added, before admitting that he does not give street beggars money.

It came after a Hungarian kitchen worker, 43-year-old Gyula Remes, died after being found in the passageway used by MPs making their way from Westminster Tube station to the Houses of Parliament.

He was the second homeless person to die after being found in the same passageway this year.

Official statistics show that rough sleeping in England has risen by 169 per cent since 2010 when the coalition government came to power.

Child homelessness is at a 12-year high, with 123,600 minors in temporary accommodation in England – a 70 per cent rise since 2010.

Nearly 600 homeless people died last year in England and Wales, other official figures showed this week, a 24 per cent increase over the past five years.

And a British Medical Journal report concluded that austerity was at the heart of the rise in rough-sleeping from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,751 in 2017 – although charities believed the true figure was much higher.

The government has launched a flagship £100m fund aiming to eradicate rough sleeping within a decade, but was attacked after Mr Brokenshire admitted that much of the money had been “reprioritised” from elsewhere.

The former chancellor, George Osborne, has denied his harsh austerity programme was the cause of the homelessness crisis.

“It’s not a lack of money. That’s not a consequence of austerity – that’s just a consequence of bad policy,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

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