Being out in the cold and wet in Hove today is the perfect antidote to the week I’ve just had in Westminster. Fresh air and friendly residents, an almost perfect combination!
I was out in Stoneham supporting Chris and Carmen who are two of the most outstanding council candidates I’ve ever had the privilege to stand alongside. Thank you to everyone we met today, it was the warmest of possible welcomes on such a chilly and damp day.
Yesterday I had a full day out and about in Hove, Portslade and Hangleton too. I was in parliament the whole week the week before so there was a lot of catching up to do.
I sat down in the office with loads of people who’d come to see me and the team for surgery appointments. These are a crucial part of being an MP as they are a chance to use the privilege of holding this position to try and help individuals as well as represent a whole community in parliament. It also gives me a true insight into the challenges so many people face.
I also found time to visit First Base, a local centre for people who are sleeping rough, where they can get a whole variety of support and services under one roof. I’ve visited a few times before but it’s important for me to get updates.
I’ve talked about the vindictiveness of government policy many times and how specific policies are striping away the security many people have. Most people have no idea how close to being homeless they are. One tragic event, such as relationship breakdown or a sudden job loss, can soon lead to someone without savings or assets such as property becoming homeless in a frighteningly short space of time.
But there’s one fact that illustrates the problem better than any. The average cost of a one bedroom flat in Brighton and Hove is £941 a month, yet housing benefit is £612. It’s why on average only 1% of the population is in arrears with their rent in our country, but 13% of people on Universal Credit are.
If you suddenly lose your income and you have no assets or savings or family to fall back on, the clock starts ticking and many people simply end up with nowhere to go. It is horrific and desperate and the perfect illustration of how years of austerity have stripped away the security most people can count on in difficult times.
There’s one person who uses First Base BHT every day for a shower and shave. The person sleeps in a car overnight, cleans up at First Base, and then goes to work and everyone of their colleagues is completely oblivious that their friend and colleague is homeless. In this situation is was due to a relationship breakdown and being in a job that simply won’t cover the rent, bills and living costs so they seep in a car and save the money.
This, for many people, is life in 21st Century Britain.
There are so many things to love about life in our amazing city today and we mustn’t forget that. Our generation – particularly inside the EU – have freedoms and rights, opportunities, and levels of wellbeing that were unimaginable to every other generation in history.
But for some people we have taken a step backwards. Even though Brexit is dominating our politics and national conversation I never forget this and will always find time to listen and understand these issues and do everything I can to fight for the change they need and all of us in this community demand.
Stay warm! I’m off to the gym now to build up some strength for the battles to come next week! Peter