Hundreds of homeless people die on the streets every year, but Labour has a plan to end this national shame

The huge increase in people living and dying on our streets is the direct result of Conservative policies. This is how the Labour Party will end homelessness for good

John Healey
Thursday 05 December 2019 07:01 GMT
Homeless man dies in freezing alleyway behind Hilton hotel amid wave of rough sleeper deaths across UK

Walk through any town or city this December and you will see people huddled up against the cold, sleeping in shop doorways and on park benches for want of a place to stay. People aren’t just living on our streets in greater numbers, shamefully they’re dying there too, with official statistics showing 726 people died homeless last year, up 50% in just five years.

This hasn’t happened by accident, just as it’s no coincidence that every Conservative government leaves our country with higher homelessness. The huge increase in people living and dying on our streets is directly the result of decisions taken by Conservative ministers, most with Liberal Democrat support.

Since 2010, the Conservatives have taken £1bn out of local homelessness services so there are now almost 9,000 fewer hostel beds. They’ve slashed funding for social housing so the number of government-funded homes for social rent has fallen by 90% to fewer than 1,000 last year. And they’ve cut housing benefit to the bone, which the government’s own spending watchdog says has led to higher homelessness.

Labour has a plan to end this national shame, which should be unthinkable in Britain in 2020.

We’ll learn from the best of what the last Labour government did to get people off the streets, including dedicated funding to help people sleeping rough, and a prime minister led task-force to save lives and make sure no-one has to sleep on our country’s streets within five years

To save lives this winter, we’ll put in place new emergency shelters and support in every area. It’s unbelievable that in 21st century Britain there is no guaranteed shelter from the winter cold for those who find themselves homeless, and that in some parts of the country there is little or no emergency accommodation at all when temperatures plunge. So we’ll put this right with £100m of emergency funding.

To rebuild the frontline services that have been decimated by 10 years of the Tories, we’ll create a new modern hostels fund for good quality supported accommodation to take people off the streets and help them rebuild their lives, and a hostels transformation fund to turn existing hostels into places where the homeless can turn their lives around. This will be backed by earmarking £1bn to replace the funding for council homelessness services cut since 2010, for street outreach teams, and vital staff and support.

Ultimately, you can’t help those who are homeless without more homes, so we’ll set aside 8,000 homes for those with a history of sleeping rough. Half of these will be additional ‘housing first’ homes, a pioneering scheme to get some rough sleepers straight off the streets and into permanent housing, with the remainder ring-fenced for rough sleepers moving out of hostel accommodation to stop the ‘bed blocking’ that now exists where people are ready to rebuild their lives but have nowhere affordable to go.

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The contrast with the Tories couldn’t be clearer: their manifesto was a blueprint for business as usual – not a penny of new funding for housing or homelessness, no plan for change, and no hope for those at the sharp end of the housing crisis.

Rising homelessness isn’t inevitable in a country as decent and well off as ours, and no voter in this election should accept Conservative excuses that make high and rising homelessness sound like bad winter weather: unfortunate but beyond our control to fix. If we win a Labour Government on 12 December, we’ll set to work on day one to save lives and end rough sleeping for good.

John Healey is the Labour candidate for Wentworth and Dearne and was shadow housing secretary from 2016.

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