By Cllr Sam Stopp – LCEH, Chair
It is now half a year since we launched The Labour Campaign to End Homelessness. In that time, the government’s policies – as much of its lack of policies -have contributed to ever-increasing homelessness.
While George Osborne trumpets long-overdue economic growth, the cry of the UK’s homeless grows more desperate. There are now 7,500 rough sleepers in London alone – up from 3,600 in 2010 when the Tories came to power during the global financial crisis.
Meanwhile the Labour movement is fighting a rearguard action against the most sustained assault the welfare state has yet endured. Junior doctors and other NHS workers are locked in a furious battle with Jeremy Hunt over the cunning Tory attempt to fatally weaken our publicly-owned health service so that it can be sold off.
The housing crisis continues to be met by the Tories with answers aimed only at middle class swing voters in marginal seats. And cruel and continued changes to the benefits system are pushing more and more people into poverty.
Across these three fronts, the battle to house the homeless is being lost.
Our campaign has a simple aim: to end homelessness. We are ever-mindful that such an aim cannnot be properly achieved until Labour returns to power. We are not lobbying the Tory Party – we are lobbying the next Labour government in advance.
It’s true that we face huge challenges. But six months from launching, we are showing the rest of the Labour movement what the New Politics can be.
On New Year’s Eve, we began our outreach programme in London. Labour activists from across the capital rallied to various points across the city to distribute warm clothes, hot food and hot drinks to rough sleepers.
From next week, we will be doing this every week in central London. And from next month, we will be doing the same in major cities across the country – Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield for starters. We intend to be in every major UK city by the end of the year.
Outreach work alone is not the answer, of course. So, at the same time, we are busy developing policies which we believe will end homelessness when Labour returns to power and where it is already in power at local level.
At a national level, we are proposing a model of rent controls based on the German system, finding ways of improving communication between government and NGOs and creating a minister for homelessness.
At a local level, we are working towards installing a homeless people’s champion at every Labour-run local authority, encouraging councillors to host surgeries specifically aimed at disenfranchised homeless people, and engaging business improvement districts to support rough sleepers.
These are all realistic and tangible ways in which we can start to fix our broken system from the ground up.
As we extend our campaign nationwide, our efforts turn towards trying to bring on board more senior Labour figures from the national Labour party. We are fortunate to have as our two patrons Teresa Pearce MP and Tom Copley AM.
We are visiting CLP meetings all over the country to recruit volunteers – Brent North, Brent Central, Nottingham South, Derby South, and Tottenham will all have had a visit by the start of March. We are hopeful that Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan will soon endorse our campaign too.
So while the situation is bleak, it is not hopeless. It is not hopeless while Labour activists from across the UK are coming together to face the homelessness crisis head-on. The urgent need for a Labour government is on all of our minds. So too is the urgent need to help those hit hardest of all by this government – the homeless.