By Cllr Sam Stopp – LCEH, Chair
In opposition and in the midst of this leadership contest, you might not expect opportunities for serious social reform to present themselves to Labour. Yet the Homelessness Reduction Bill does just that. We cannot miss this chance.
Nearly 40 years ago, a Labour government took on a Liberal MP’s private member’s bill to pass the 1977 Housing (Homeless Persons) Act. This gave councils a legal duty to house homeless people who met certain ‘priority need’ criteria. Thousands of homeless families have been spared the inhumanity of homelessness as a result.
If passed, the Homelessness Reduction Bill will build on this landmark piece of legislation. It will help ensure those homeless people that fall outside the current legislation are not turned away, at worst sleeping on the streets. As a party we can be proud of the role we have already played in championing the need to reform the law. Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue in PMQs and John Healey has recently renewed his call for change. The Communities and Local Government select committee, chaired by Labour MP Clive Betts, has thrown its weight behind the bill and Labour councils have been giving their input on how to get the details right.
But now is the time for action, not just words. If fewer than 100 MPs attend the second reading, then just one opponent could kill the bill. Even if that opponent is not from our benches, with over 200 Labour MPs representing seats in England, there is no doubt that we would be responsible.
As in 1977, we will need to show good grace and work with a bill sponsor from another party: the Conservative Bob Blackman. And as we are in opposition, we will need to win over the Government, who are “considering options including legislation”, but have so far made no firm commitment. But those are things we can do.
Our calls are simple:
1. To Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Smith and the shadow cabinet: show Labour’s commitment to action on homelessness by committing to whip support for the Homelessness Reduction Bill.
2. To Labour MPs: commit to back this crucial bill on 28 October, even though that might mean missing a valuable day of constituency work.
3. To all in the Labour movement: do all you can to persuade MPs and the leadership to give their full backing to the bill.
Of course this bill is not a silver bullet. But taking practical, ambitious steps to tackle homelessness is something I believe our party can unite around, right now, in 2016.
Will you join us?