Speech to Crisis today - Jack Dromey

2 May 2012

Jack DromeyJack Dromey MP, Labour's Shadow Housing Minister, in a speech to Crisis today, said:

Homelessness and rough sleeping in 21st century Britain, the 7th richest nation on earth, is a disgrace and a scar on our society.

The hallmark of any civilised society is not people sleeping and living on our streets.

It is not increasing numbers of families forced from their homes.

It is not a mother or father choosing between paying the rent and putting food on the table.

The hallmark of a civilised society is the homeless with a home.

It is a decent home at a price people can afford.

It is homes for all.

That must be our aspiration.

Anything less falls short.

I know many of you will have been fighting this cause for many years.

Whether you work, or give your time as volunteer, for a local authority, a charity, or a social enterprise you will have helped countless numbers of homeless off the streets and into the warm.

You will have helped them put their lives back together.

Helped them with their health problems, physical and mental.

Helped them with their education and into work.

You will have helped find homes for families made homeless and in need.

Helped them to stay near their work, their children’s schools, friends and family. Their communities.

You have all been fighting to right this wrong, some for many years, and I applaud you.

And no matter what help you get from Government I know you will continue that fight.

But I know that you can’t do this on your own.

Government doesn’t just have a walk-on part to play in ending homelessness and rough sleeping, it is absolutely instrumental.

And what is Government doing right now?

We have a Housing Minister who has said that homelessness and rough sleeping are what brought him into politics.

Many of you will have worked closely with him and been impressed, as I have been, by his desire to bring an end to homelessness and rough sleeping.

In Opposition, Grant set-up the Conservative Homelessness Foundation.

In Government, he has set-up a cross-Government working group on homelessness and introduced a no-second night out policy.

But on the ground, the impact of this Government’s wider economic and housing policies have been devastating.

Homelessness has risen 14%.

Rough sleeping has risen 23%.

And if rough sleeping is the most visible manifestation of homelessness, and the most heartbreaking, it is also a severe warning sign.

People who do not sleep rough or present to their local authorities can still be homeless.

They’re ‘couch-surfing’ with friends or family.

They’re living in unsafe or overcrowded accommodation.

They’re squatting in unoccupied properties.

They are without a home. And if the number of rough sleepers is rising, then you can be sure their number is rising too.

What’s more, we are seeing families being told to pack their bags and move hundreds of miles away as soaring rents and a collapse in affordable house building have forced councils in London to seek housing far outside the overheated capital.

So the numbers of rough sleepers and homeless are rising but what of the services to support them?

What of their safety net?

With the biggest cuts to almost any area in government, Local Authorities nationwide have been hit hard.

So we’ve seen cut backs.

58% of projects have received reduced funding.

There are over 1500 fewer bed spaces.

A reduction of 1 in 10 staff, representing a loss of over 1,400 people.

It is true we’ve seen an increase in the sector of volunteers and this is good news. But volunteers cannot do the work of specialised qualified staff.

And while these services are being cut back, the number of clients using homeless day centres has risen by nearly a third.

And we’ve seen 22% fewer empty beds on an average night.

But the Government’s response has been complacent and utterly out of touch.

In Opposition, Grant Shapps said there was a need for full and robust figures on homelessness and rough sleeping.

But in Government, he has sought to deny there is an issue by saying that homelessness remains at historically low levels.

What he doesn’t say is that that is because homelessness fell 70% under Labour.

On homelessness, as on housing in general and the economy, this Government is in denial and out of touch.

What lessons does Labour take from this?

How do we ensure that not only is there is no second night out, but no nights out on our streets?

A focus on homelessness? Absolutely.

We must give a voice to the homeless and allow them to tell their stories to counter the shameful caricature that is all too prevalent.

We need to expose why and how people can become homeless to show that you or I, friends, family and colleagues through personal tragedy can become homeless.

The personal factors. Through the loss of housing tenancy, unemployment, mental and physical illness, domestic violence, drug or alcohol dependency and relationship breakdown.

But just as, if not more important, it is the structural factors.

Poverty, unemployment, a shortage of affordable housing, and changes to benefits.

And while the former remains as important and in need of a policy focus as ever, it is the latter where this Government faces accusations of a dereliction of duty.

For we have seen that failed economic policies have resulted in higher unemployment and the greatest squeeze on living standards in a generation.

Leaving families and individuals struggling to stay in their homes, owned or rented and increasing numbers presenting as homeless or out on the streets.

Not to mention the cuts to services that provide the safety net.

And we have also seen how their failing housing policies are contributing to the growing housing crisis.

A collapse in affordable house building.

A private rented sector defined by soaring rents and poor standards.

Social housing providers unsupported and their tenants demonised.

Why has this happened?

Let me give you my view.

This has happened because housing has not been put centre stage.

And to end homelessness, housing must be put centre stage in a way it has not been under successive governments for 25 years.

In this Government, the consensus is that housing doesn’t matter.

But I need no convincing.

Housing matters.

It matters to the economy. It matters to health. It matters to education.

Together we must win the argument for housing.

To ensure it is given the centrality it deserves.

Housing must be joined up across all of government from the Treasury to Work and Pensions and from Health to Education.

Housing must be at the centre of policy making not at the margins.

From housing market stability and macroeconomic stability to the contribution of investment in housing to overall economic activity.

At the macro-level -

It is it about construction which makes a significant contribution of 3% to GDP.

It is it about the £91 billion of economic output generated in 2008, accounting for over 1.5 million jobs.

It is about the multiplier effect which, according to some estimates, gets the economy up to £3.50 for every of public money spent on house-building

At the micro-level, for the homeless, it is about tackling financial exclusion and barriers to employment.

From the Treasury to the Department for Work Pensions it is about economy and jobs.

As housing directly affects the economy so it does to health.

Poorly heated or insulated homes can lead to hypothermia and preventable deaths.

Overcrowded homes can lead to strains on relationships and infectious diseases spreading more rapidly.

Badly adapted homes can lead to trips, falls, avoidable pain and hospital admissions.

The annual costs to health of poor housing have been estimated at £2.5 billion.

And for the homeless the health impacts on them, and society as a whole, are even more extreme.

The homeless attend A & E six times more often than housed individuals.

They are admitted 4 times as often.

They die 30 years younger.

Just as to health as to education. There are significant linkages between poor and low quality housing and overcrowding and education.

Where does a child do their homework if they have to share a bedroom with siblings and the lounge is used as a bedroom by their parent?

One report estimates that £14.8 billion will be lost in earnings by the current group of young people going through the school system based on differences resulting from the impact of poor housing on their GCSE results.

For the homeless we know that a high proportion of rough sleepers have been excluded from school and many have no or few educational qualifications.

At the macro-level and micro-level, housing and homelessness policy needs to be tackled and addressed across all Departments.

So we want to put housing centre stage, making it a priority.

For homelessness, yes, we want to look at the safety net and the pathways that lead back from the streets to a better life;

The duties we owe the homeless, in priority need and not.

The quality of advice from Local Authorities.

Financial exclusion and barriers to employment.

The support networks of professional services but also friends and social networks.

Exposing and educating on how, why and who.

These are all issues we are looking at as part of our policy review.

But the thing that strikes me as the most shocking thing about homelessness is not that it exists in a very rich nation such as ours.

But that we know how to solve it.

The homeless with a home.

A decent home at a price people can afford.

Homes for all.

That is the kind of society I want to live in. It will take political will and leadership to get us there.

It is that which I intend to deliver.