We are 38 days away from a general election. For those condemned to existing on the streets through rough sleeping and the more than 320,000 people homelessness in Britain today, change cannot come soon enough. For the most marginalised, exhausted and broken people in our country – and there are many – nine years of Tory rule has unleashed devastation on their lives.
It is only though electing a radical, socialist, Labour government, determined in delivering the most ambitious social justice programme in modern British history, that will see the level of change that is needed to end all forms of homelessness and the humanitarian crisis that is homelessness across our country.
The facts speak for themselves. Rough sleeping has gone through the roof since the Tories took power, with a massive 169% recorded rise. At least 726 human beings died on the streets last year in England and Wales. We have record numbers of empty buildings and properties accumulating vast amounts of wealth, while people sit shivering in the doorways and pavements. We know there are many more who have died and who will die this winter as Britain goes to the polls.
The Labour Homelessness Campaign believes this election must be focused on ending the man-made humanitarian crisis that is rough sleeping and homelessness. We believe homelessness is not an individual choice – it is a political choice made in Westminster.
We established our campaign almost a year ago in response to the rough sleeping crisis that has left no town, city or village untouched. After volunteering with grassroots homeless organisations such as Street Kitchens, the Oxford Homeless Project and others, we created a campaign with a horizontal and fluid hierarchy, centring the voices and needs of those experiencing the crisis.
During this election we will be campaigning harder than ever, stepping up our activism and advocacy work. We are calling on the Labour Party to include in its next manifesto the most ambitious policies to end all forms of homelessness.
That means reversing the cuts to council services and welfare benefits since 2010 that have contributed to this crisis, unfreezing housing benefit, developing a well-funded Housing-First strategy to end the need to sleep rough, and ensuring everyone experiencing homelessness or sleeping rough can access support, regardless of local connection.
On housing, we need to commit to building 100,000 council homes every year. We also need to end the scourge of buildings sitting empty while people sleep outside, by rolling back the anti-squatting laws, and giving councils greater powers to take over empty buildings and use them for people, not profit.
We must end all forms of criminalisation of homelessness – not just because it is wrong, but because we need to do more to restore the trust we’ve lost as a society among the most marginalised. We could provide the housing and funding we need tomorrow, but there would be many who would not come off of the streets because their main interaction with officialdom has been the experience of being moved on and threatened with fines.
Labour should repeal not only the 1824 Vagrancy Act, but also prohibit the use of Public Space Protection Orders, Community Protection Notices and other “anti-social behaviour” orders against begging and rough sleeping, and other behaviours associated with homelessness. We could further implement a host of policies that would show our commitment to standing in solidarity with rough sleepers, such as:
- Commit to legislating against anti-homeless “hostile architecture”.
- Crack down on the “Privately Owned Public Spaces”, which gives private security power to move on people they don’t like.
- End the hostile environment against migrant rough sleepers, removing all Home Office immigration officials from homelessness services and providing support to everyone on our streets, regardless of immigration status.
- Provide free ID to those experiencing homelessness.
- Ensure those fleeing domestic violence can never become homeless as a priority.
- Make voter registration as easy for those with no fixed abode as for those in homes.
At Labour conference in September, party members passed a Homeless Bill of Rights. We need to show our commitment to every one of those rights when we have a Labour government. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end homelessness in all its forms, and elect a Labour government committed to changing the lives of the many and not the few. The Labour Homelessness Campaign believes we will win because we must win.