Government “turning its back on rough sleepers” in lockdown, says Labour

Elliot Chappell

Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire has accused the government of “turning its back on rough sleepers” and criticised the Tories over the lack of support being given to homeless people in England’s second national lockdown.

Responding to an urgent question tabled by Labour in parliament this afternoon, minister for rough sleeping and housing Kelly Tolhurst told MPs that the government will not repeat its ‘Everyone In’ programme adopted in March.

The policy saw the government allocate £3.2m for local authorities and charities to expand the provision of emergency hotel and hostel accommodation for rough sleepers during the first wave of coronavirus cases earlier this year.

Commenting on the challenges facing those currently without a home, Debbonaire said: “This winter will be colder and potentially more dangerous than the first lockdown, with nowhere near the same protection for people sleeping rough.”

Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary added: “It is disgraceful that the government is turning its back on rough sleepers at a time when they need the most help.”

The Tory minister appeared to be confused about support for renters in the lockdown, claiming that “evictions will not be taking place until January” despite the government’s refusal to extend or reintroduce the evictions ban.

The government introduced a ban on evictions to protect renters during the first lockdown earlier in the pandemic, with the suspension brought to an end on September 20th. A ban on the repossession of homes ended on October 31st.

The Conservatives have this time only requested that bailiffs not enforce eviction notices, but Labour has pointed out that this will still mean tenants continue to receive notices as the country heads into winter and over Christmas.

Tolhurst also refused in the parliamentary debate this afternoon to publish the Public Health England advice the government has received to support the controversial decision to open communal night shelters.

17 health and homelessness organisations and charities, include the British Medical Association and the Faculty of Public Health, have warned the Prime Minister that the decision entails a “risk to life”.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, they wrote: “Despite the best efforts of shelters to adhere to social distancing, they are designed as communal spaces which makes social distancing and self-isolation extremely difficult.”

Debbonaire called on the government to urgently restart the ‘Everyone In’ scheme to protect rough sleepers in early November, shortly before England was due to enter another lockdown following a last-minute U-turn from Johnson.

The intervention from the housing spokesperson followed the demands of charities and local councillors for the government to extend the same support as during the last lockdown, which took around 15,000 homeless people off the streets.

According to one study into the impact of the ‘Everyone In’ programme during the first round of Covid restrictions, the emergency accommodation provided with central government funding saved an estimated 266 people from death.

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