The latest government statistics on rough sleeping and homelessness have been made available and make for depressing reading. Brighton and Hove show the second highest number of recorded cases with 178 rough sleepers in their count in November, this is a 24% increase on the previous year.
Additionally, outreach workers in the Brighton and Hove region have reported dealing with up to 30 new cases per week. For anyone who has walked from Hove Town Hall to Churchill square this figure will not come as a surprise. It never fails to be distressing to pass 10-15 people in shop doorways along this relatively short walk. Since the Tories have come to power charities have reported a 169% increase in rough sleeping since 2010. The Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government has outlined that rough sleepers numbered 4751 in 2017, an increase of 15% from autumn 2016.
This is the seventh consecutive year that rough sleeping has increased in England. This is utterly disheartening and totally avoidable. A large proportion of homelessness is due to political decisions and will-power, and it is through political will that we can forge a path to eradicate it.
Labour Councillor Clare Moonan, lead councillor for rough sleeping in Brighton & Hove, said: “There is a national housing crisis and the local increase in rough sleeping is part of a shocking broader trend. As a council, we’re looking at how established and innovative ways can help all those in need in our city, for example by opening a night shelter in our conference centre during the winter months. It’s a huge challenge. We’re seeing more people vulnerable people sleeping rough on our streets at a time when funding from government is being dramatically reduced, which is having an impact on services. We can’t tackle this alone so we’re linking with partners and embracing community support to see positive change. At the same time, there are many services already in place which are doing a fantastic job and we need to remember how much higher the number of rough sleepers would be without the dedication of all involved. Yet while there is anyone sleeping rough in the city there is still more we can and will do. The scale of the support being provided is not always apparent when looking at the sadly familiar sight of people sleeping rough”.
The council is tackling the issue to the best of their ability but local authority funding to help vulnerable people avoid homelessness was cut by 45% between 2009-10 and 2014-15. Similarly, half of disabled PIP claimants have had benefits cut by DWP in the last year and a half. The reduced network of support being offered to vulnerable people is responsible for the increase in rough sleepers, the incessant cuts to public services directly correlate with the number of people who are having to sleep rough.
A person does not suddenly become homeless. Changes in circumstances such as cuts to benefits, a mental health crisis or a bereavement can push more vulnerable people on to the street. That is why the reduced network of support being offered to vulnerable people is responsible for the increase in rough sleepers, the incessant cuts to public services directly correlate with the number of people who are having to sleep rough. I have seen homelessness tackled in my own lifetime. In 1999 the Labour Government ploughed £200m into lifting the poorest people in Britain off the streets. The new Rough Sleepers Unit was life changing, it crucially developed an action plan based around accommodation and work.
I believe that this problem can only truly be solved if we commit to building many more affordable homes, which is why Labour has committed to building a million new homes over the next five years, with at least half to be council houses.
Labour has also committed to setting out a new national plan to end rough sleeping within the next Parliament, starting by making available 4,000 additional homes reserved for people with a history of rough sleeping.
So having seen these depressing figures, I am calling on government to re-assess their priorities and focus on helping those at the very bottom and doing as Labour did between 1997-2010 – to eradicate homelessness and rough sleeping in 2019.