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Theresa May insists 2,500 homeless children in London borough are not 'sleeping on our streets'

PM's remarks prompt uproar and shouts of 'shame' on Labour benches

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 20 December 2017 14:31 GMT
Theresa May appears to downplay seriousness of homelessness that is not rough sleeping

Theresa May has been accused of underplaying the plight of homeless people in England after insisting that 2,500 homeless children in a London borough are not "sleeping on our streets".

In remarks that prompted uproar and shouts of “shame” on the Labour benches at the final Prime Minister’s Questions session of 2017, Ms May sought to clarify the definition of homeless by explaining it did not mean children would be sleeping rough in London.

Rosena Allin-Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, said: “Every child deserves to have a roof over their head and food on the table. Yet on her watch – in Wandsworth alone – the number of families forced to survive on food banks is continuing to rise.

“And 2,500 children, yes children, will wake up homeless on Christmas Day. My question is simple, when will this austerity-driven Government say enough is enough and put an end to this tragedy.

But the Prime Minister replied saying Ms Allin-Khan should note “this Government has lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of absolute poverty”.

She continued: “But I think it’s important for all those who heard her question to be aware of this. She talks of 2,500 children in Wandsworth are waking up homeless on Christmas Day.

“Anybody hearing that will assume what that means is that 2,500 children will be sleeping on our streets. It does not. It does not mean that.

Shouts of “shame” could be heard from the Opposition benches before Speaker John Bercow intervened, telling MPs that questions and answers would be heard.

He said: “I'm in no hurry at all.”

Mrs May went on: “It's important we are clear about this for all those who hear those questions because, as we all know, families with children who are accepted as homeless will be provided with accommodation.

“I would also point out to honourable members opposite that statutory homelessness is lower now than it was for most of the period of the last Labour government.”

Alex Cunningham, the Labour MP for Stockton North, later posted on social media: “Theresa May seems to think it’s all right for children to be homeless as long as they have a roof over their heads.

“They need a home – not stuck in a hotel. Heartless May shows her truest blue colours – her lot will be okay though.”

The remarks from the Prime Minister comes after a damning report from the cross-party Public Accounts Committee in Westminster which claimed the Government had adopted a “unacceptably complacent” attitude towards tackling homelessness, as soaring numbers of people are forced to live on the streets or in temporary accommodation.

Figures show more than 9,000 people are sleeping rough on the streets of England at any one time – up 134 per cent since 2011. Over 79,000 households, including 120,000 children, are meanwhile homeless and living in temporary accommodation – a rise of 65 per cent since 2010.

Recent research by charity Shelter also revealed that child homelessness has reached a 10-year high, with nearly 130,000 children in Britain set to wake up homeless and in temporary accommodation this Christmas.

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