George Osborne denies his austerity caused homelessness crisis: ‘It’s not a lack of money’

Former Tory chancellor dismisses link between severe spending cuts he introduced and explosion in rough-sleeping, saying: 'I entirely reject that'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 22 December 2018 10:25
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George Osborne denies his austerity caused homelessness crisis: ‘It's not a lack of money’

George Osborne has denied that “a lack of money” following his harsh austerity programme was the cause of Britain’s homelessness crisis.

The former Conservative chancellor dismissed growing warnings that the severe spending cuts he introduced were behind the explosion in rough sleeping, saying: “No, I entirely reject that.”

“It’s not a lack of money. That’s not a consequence of austerity – that’s just a consequence of bad policy,” Mr Osborne insisted.

The denial came despite the revelation that child homelessness is at a 12-year high, with 123,600 minors in temporary accommodation in England – a 70 per cent rise since the Conservatives came into power

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.

Cheaper social housing has withered, support programmes run by local authorities and others have been slashed, with benefit cuts – and harsh sanctions which remove benefits – also blamed.

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Osborne – who was sacked by Theresa May and quit as an MP last year – argued that poverty would have been worse without austerity.

Asked about the rising number of “deaths in doorways”, he said: “The country was close to bankrupt – you know, the famous letter we got when we walked in the Treasury, ‘there’s no money left’.”

Mr Osborne claimed the criticism he did get was as the person who “put up VAT, put up stamp duty, got rid of the non-dom tax regime” – prompting the suggestion he met “the wrong people”.

But he argued: “The tax rises that I either introduced, or attempted to introduce, tuned out to be amongst the most controversial. The public expend savings were a necessary part of a package of getting this country back on its feet.”

He said the Rough Sleepers Initiative, set up by Tony Blair’s government, had been “very effective” – underlining policy action was the key – but experts say it was less of a priority after the Coalition came into power, in 2010.

Shadow housing secretary Melanie Onn said: “Conservatives like George Osborne are in denial about their responsibility for the homelessness crisis.

“The rapidly rising homelessness we've seen since 2010 is a direct result of the Tories' short-sighted cuts to housing investment, social security benefits and hostel funding.”

On Brexit, Mr Osborne attacked what he called the reckless decision to pursue a no-deal option, saying: “I don’t think the country voted to mobilise the Army, stockpile medicine, hoard food and go around the world buying every fridge available.

“That is not what was offered and that is now what is happening.”

And he argued that a general election was an under-reported likelihood for 2019 because “the simplest way to solve political impasses has been to return to the public”.

He praised the current attempts by MPs to block a no-deal Brexit, saying: “The British political system is trying to pull the country back from this cliff edge of the referendum result.

“The reason why Parliament is now actively talking about things like the Norway option of a relationship with the EU is precisely because the political system is now trying to act as a check on what essentially is a reckless decision – that is to precipitously leave the European Union without an agreement”

Mr Osborne said the Conservative party was heading towards a prolonged period in opposition unless it adapted to modern Britain, by becoming more socially-liberal and pro-business.

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