GENERAL ELECTION 2019: Your letters
Why is the Labour Party not shouting from the rafters about the horror of homelessness? Why have they not made it the election issue?
For those lucky enough not to be affected directly, “austerity” can seem like an abstract idea. But the stark evidence is there every day.
When we see people sleeping on wet cardboard boxes in tunnels or shop doorways – that is austerity. Working people living in tents – austerity. Women on the streets because the council told them they made themselves intentionally homeless for walking out on an abusive partner – austerity.
This victimises the poor, mentally ill, and vulnerable. It is a shaming reminder that Britain is not only a broken and blinkered country, it is a callous one. And for prospective prime ministers, it is a reminder of how much better we could and should be, the public saying: we are not accepting homelessness in Britain any more.
Then any new government should begin with the obvious: build more social housing, ideally council housing; and properly fund a nationwide Housing First strategy. The Housing First model has been successful in places as diverse as Finland and New York.
It is based on the simple principle everybody needs a home, especially those living chaotic lives. For those with complex needs, there is wraparound support as soon as they move in. So far, this has been trialled here in an ad-hoc, half-hearted way.
Often, street homeless people are told their lives are too chaotic to qualify for Housing First. And yet Housing First was devised purely for this purpose.
Many of the charities or private landlords tasked with housing homeless people have neither the knowledge nor the will to look after people with serious problems. An easy way to get rid of them is by enforcing “house rules”.
Hostels, emergency accommodation and long-term accommodation need to be run by local (or central) government, not profit-making companies.
Another problem is that the charities or private landlords providing supported accommodation are not held accountable when disasters happen. As they are classed as providing support rather than care, they are self-regulating.
There are many simple ways to reduce homelessness – linking benefits to the cost of living and housing, getting rid of no-fault evictions, so dodgy landlords can’t turn out tenants after eight weeks, getting rid of the bedroom tax, scrapping the legislation allowing local authorities to refuse to support homeless people if they don’t have a local connection, making sure victims of domestic violence are housed (a third of homeless women cite domestic violence as the reason they are on the streets) rather than telling them they have made themselves intentionally homeless and throwing them onto the streets.
The next prime minister would do well to remember Gyulai Rimes, who died on the streets opposite the Houses of Parliament. At the time, there was an outcry from politicians – how could this happen in a civilised society? Yet 11 months on, only one thing has changed – the tunnel in Westminster leading to the Houses of Parliament, which provided people like Rimes with relative warmth and security, has been shut off to rough sleepers.
Votes ready to be won
England’s shortage of affordable rented housing shows no sign of ending – as official figures reveal that only 37,825 new homes were built to be let at discounted rents last year.
The number of new homes classed as social housing and available at the cheapest rents from councils remained historically low at a mere 6,287 – the second-lowest level in peacetime since council house building began in earnest in 1921.
The shortfall in new affordable homes is likely to fuel householders’ reliance on the private rental market.
New research also shows that such housing is almost completely unaffordable in many areas for people who rely on housing benefit, which has been frozen since 2016.
In a third of areas of England fewer than 10% of homes are now affordable to welfare recipients – according to a study by the Chartered Institute of Housing and the homelessness charity Crisis.
Housing campaigners are urging all parties to tackle the housing crisis in their manifestos for the December 12 general election.
They warn that the lack of new council and housing association properties is forcing families who cannot afford to buy to rely on private tenancies, which remain vulnerable to no-fault evictions and widespread problems with building standards.
With more than 4.5 million households in England renting privately, there are votes to be won by any party that promises to make radical change.
Regarding Food banks
In Readers’ Views last week John Smithee asked candidates what they are going to do about the growing use of food banks in Fenland.
Thank you John for your question. The use of food banks is often misconceived and misunderstood.
Access to food banks is highly regulated and limited to those that have been assessed by the government to require the support. The number of visits allowed within the set period is restricted. It is not a free-for-all. This, I believe, is a really important fact that needs to be spoken about and made into common knowledge.
No-one chooses to access a food bank. No-one looks forward to it. It is not an easy option. I have, through voluntary work, worked with the homeless community and last year I worked many a shift at a night shelter.
We ensured a hot meal of nutritional value was served every night. We opened the food provision to anyone that asked for it. There was criticism that people would take advantage of us, that was not our experience.
We did not assess those accessing the service. We did not make them provide their personal details, but we did talk to them and try to understand the difficulties they were in. They each had a story, not the same but also not wholly different.
There were couples as well as single people, many were not rough sleepers but they were all homeless.
They had found the key to keeping the sofa at their friend’s house was not being a burden on the food resources.
Understanding the impact of food poverty as well as fuel poverty is fundamental to the progression of our society.
John, you ask for candidates to commit to the end of the five week wait for Universal Credit.
The Labour Party will do better than that. With all the news last week, an announcement by Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, was not as well publicised as it should have been.
Labour commits to scrapping Universal Credit, they aim to halve the use of food banks within a year and end the need within three.
The Conservative Party has overseen the steepest increase in people needing food banks in the past five years. They should feel ashamed. Austerity was a choice and has impacted those with the least, the hardest.
In 2019 in the UK nobody should ever be forced to go without food, be forced between feeding a child or putting the heating on. It is time for real change, change that turns around the fortunes of the many.
Labour Party candidate North East Cambs.
Why I’ll pick Labour
I’m voting Labour. The Tories previously cut Corporation Tax by 10% , they now propose to cut it again after Brexit. That means blue collar unskilled people have to make up the difference.
Tories also propose to cut National Insurance payments that will create an £11 billion shortfall in NHS, social care and education funding.
NHS prescriptions will be privatised off to the USA that will take £50 billion out of existing NHS funding budgets.
To replace the loss of NI and Corporation Tax revenue our Income Tax will have to rise – that’s why the Living Wage is being pledged, so they can take it away from you in the other hand!
As Nigel Farage has done a deal with the ‘devil’, Trump and Boris, and the Brexit Party’s electoral absence in Fenland, the only vote I can cast is for Labour.
This could mean another ‘Hung Parliament’ and a coalition Government.
Is there any help to vote?
A nagging voice in the deep recesses of my mind is asking me what provisions have been made for the elderly, or the less able in society, to vote?
I plead ignorance on any arrangements that may be in place, so please forgive me.
The final day to apply for a postal vote has passed, but you can still apply for a proxy vote, allowing someone else to vote for you in case you cannot get out. December 5 is the deadline for that.
But, have any provisions have been made by taxi firms for voter concessions, has anyone offered a ‘free’ voting trip, or can Stagecoach offer a voting bus service on December 12?
Have you a friend, neighbour, or anyone that you can offer a lift to?
I really loathe having to vote on Brexit again, but we must give them a chance to deliver on democracy. We must ensure, once and for all, that it finishes.
For me, Boris is the only option for us to respect democracy, and the only leader to take us out of the EU.
More by this authorFenland Citizen Letters Editor