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VAUNTED Tory plans to eradicate rough sleeping unravelled hours after being announced today as Housing Secretary James Brokenshire admitted there is no new money behind the £100 million fund.
Shadow housing secretary John Healey said that the “feeble plan lacked any urgency” to tackle the problem despite rough-sleeping numbers having doubled since 2010 thanks to decisions made by Tory ministers.
The fund was claimed as a significant step towards helping the estimated 4,751 people sleeping rough on any given night in England find a home, though its long timescale drew immediate criticism.
Questioned by BBC Radio 4 yesterday, Mr Brokenshire admitted that half the sum had already been committed to rough sleeping, while the other half was “reprioritised” from existing budgets.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “A target of ending rough sleeping by 2027, with no new money, is meaningless to the people on the streets now.”
Mr Brokenshire denied that government policies were behind a rise in homelessness, despite the National Audit Office reporting recently that changes to housing benefit have contributed to the rising numbers of people without a permanent home.
Geoff Kearns, who slept rough after a “mental crash,” and Sean Jennings, who found himself on the streets after leaving the care system, said the government’s target was unrealistic.
Mr Kearns tackled Mr Brokenshire on the issue as the minister visited The Passage homeless resource centre in central London yesterday to launch the new strategy and blamed the Tories’ flagship benefit reform scheme for driving housing insecurity.
“Universal credit (UC) is the one major thing that’s going to create more homelessness,” Mr Kearns said.
“When you go on UC, you’ve got to wait two months, three months for your money. Your landlord’s not going to wait, he’s going to evict you, so you’re back to square one again.”
Mr Jennings said: “UC needs to go. You’re getting a lot of families, vulnerable people, going back on the streets because of that. I’ve noticed that since that UC has come out. There’s more homeless people because of that.”
The two men spoke of the abuse they experienced on the streets. Mr Kearns said that, while he slept rough, people spat at him, threw things, beat him and urinated on him.
Mr Jennings said: “I actually had one fellow try to pour petrol over me.”
In response to the government’s strategy, Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said homelessness will not be fixed without fixing housing benefit under the UC scheme and building more social housing.
“If the government wants to eradicate rough sleeping for good, this strategy must be quickly followed by a new plan to build many more social homes and efforts to create real security for those struggling with their rent,” she said.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan recently announced that £574m — more than five times what the government is promising — is needed over the next five years to tackle rough sleeping in London alone.
Labour’s London Assembly housing spokesman Tom Copley pointed out the other pressing issue of “hidden homelessness,” with thousands of people stuck in temporary accommodation in the capital.
“If the government are serious about turning this increasingly desperate situation around, they need to start adequately investing in the genuinely affordable homes that Londoners need,” he said.
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