This government is failing London’s rough sleepers – ministers’ refusal to fund safe accommodation will cost lives

New analysis from City Hall has revealed a £24m shortfall in the funding needed to provide emergency accommodation for rough sleepers in London over the coldest winter months

Sadiq Khan
Wednesday 16 December 2020 19:28 GMT
A homeless man sleeping rough in London
A homeless man sleeping rough in London (AFP via Getty)

This is a winter like no other and it’s those facing homelessness who are at gravest risk from cold weather and the coronavirus. The hardships that rough sleepers face every winter are even starker this year because existing health problems mean hundreds of homeless Londoners are especially vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19.

We know exactly what needs to be done to keep rough sleepers safe, because we did it earlier this year when London led the national drive to make safe, self-contained accommodation available to every rough sleeper as the pandemic hit. This winter, it’s only the refusal by ministers to properly fund this safe accommodation that’s stopping us doing it again.

In one of the toughest years for our city in living memory, the response over recent months from London’s charities, councils, faith groups, businesses and City Hall to find rough sleepers safe accommodation off the streets has been inspirational and we know it has saved lives.

Since March, a world-leading collective effort by London local government and charities has given more than 6,000 homeless people across the city somewhere safe to stay – including more than 1,700 in hotels, funded by City Hall. Doing this has kept some of the most vulnerable Londoners safe, avoiding an estimated 7,000 infections and 90 deaths, and preventing the high number of coronavirus cases we’ve seen among those who are homeless in other cities around the world. 

We’ve also done everything we can to make sure that this help isn’t just for the short term but is a chance for people to turn their lives around. Through my “In For Good” approach, we have supported more than 3,000 people to move on from emergency accommodation so they don’t end up back on the streets.

But despite our city’s efforts, we know many hundreds of people will sleep out in London tonight and thousands more may come on to the streets over the coming months.  

Recently announced funding from central government – a national £10m winter fund and the £15m “Protect” programme – falls far short of what is needed. New analysis from City Hall has revealed a £24m shortfall in the funding needed to provide emergency accommodation for rough sleepers in London over the coldest winter months. Even at this late stage, it’s vital that the government thinks again and makes this funding available.

Ministers must also set out the funding and policy changes needed to keep people off the streets for good. In particular, there’s a huge hole in support for homeless non-UK nationals, which is why I’ve backed a suspension of immigration-based exclusions from welfare and homelessness assistance, as well as a reversal of the heartless plans for rough sleeping to become grounds for deportation. Along with many of London’s council leaders, I have made it clear that City Hall will not collaborate with such a draconian, counterproductive measure.

This winter, London will continue to do what we can with the resources we have to keep homeless Londoners safe. We’re continuing to make some self-contained hotel accommodation available, prioritising those rough sleepers with high health needs, and making rapid testing available. We’ve worked to make winter night shelters safe and we’ll continue to operate severe-weather accommodation for when temperatures drop below freezing. And to give extra help to homeless young Londoners who have been hardest hit by the economic fallout from the coronavirus, I’m launching a fundraising campaign to raise money for youth homelessness charities working in the capital.  

However, to keep everyone safe this winter, we urgently need the government to step up and provide the funding to give every rough sleeper a safe place to stay. 

Sadiq Khan is the mayor of London

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