By David Hamblin, Chair of the GMB Young Members Network and member of Welsh Labour
“The fact of the matter is that there is no way of dealing with the problem of rented houses in modern society except by public ownership” – Nye Bevan.
Politics is about the food in your mouth and the roof over your head – if there isn’t even that then our politics must resolve the issue. We recognise that a society in which homelessness exists is a society unfinished, a society which is not worthy of the name.
Figures from the Welsh Government confirmed that there were over 4000 Young People who were homeless in Wales in 2015. There are a multitude of factors which may result in homelessness for a young person and, as such, we in the Labour Party must establish a number of ways to address such factors. Support for those who identify as LGBTQ, those who are fleeing domestic violence, those whose circumstances take a turn for the worse, and more.
The Welsh Labour Government had already moved to support those in danger of losing their homes through The Housing Wales Act (2014). This sought to establish both a duty and timescale for Local Authorities to provide support to those at risk. However this comes at a time when Local Authorities are under the economic cosh of austerity and, all too often, it is the most vulnerable in society who feel its brunt.
Those who find themselves to be homeless are seldom courted for their vote (with many unaware that they still have the right to vote). Furthermore, it cannot address the underlying economic problems which affect so many in the current economic system. While the Act is to be commended, it is a response to the imminent risk of homelessness. We must address the causes.
The GMB Young Members’ Fair Deal calls for a real living wage and an end to zero hours contracts. We aim to address the economic disparity with which so many Young People are afflicted by the malaise of capitalism and austerity. In such a system the economic means of keeping a roof over your head are beyond many.
We also fight the pernicious Trade Union bill which seeks to rob workers of their chief defence against unjust unemployment – which in turn may lead to homelessness. Finally we campaign for increased awareness and support for Mental Health provision.
None of these aims was drawn up with combating homelessness specifically in mind, but it demonstrates that the fight to end homelessness starts with treating all with dignity – a core Trade Union value. A motion calling for GMB to endorse the Labour Campaign to End Homelessness has been submitted to GMB Congress 2016.
I took the liberty of quoting Aneurin Bevan at the start of this article – it is not quite the indulgence it may first seem to be. As Minister for Health, Bevan is rightly lauded for his role in establishing the NHS, but housing also fell within his remit.
Bevan applied a similar approach to both, understanding that it is through society working collectively that societal needs are met. He asserted that it was only through “public ownership” that rental housing sector needs could be addressed and that building houses to rent was required as “it doesn’t seem to have dawned upon some people in this country that the vast majority of us can’t afford to buy a house.” Over half-a-century on we find ourselves in the same position. Let us ensure that such an issue does not exist in another fifty years’ time.
We must fight in multiple spheres; establish links with Trade Unions, drafting (and in turn passing) legislation, and building awareness of the issues in the community. I was proud to speak at the Wales March for Homes rally in Cardiff where we sought support for building council housing, establishing rent controls, and scrapping rip-off agency charges.
What political gain do we make through our efforts to end homelessness? What political gain do we make by helping others? The Labour Campaign to End Homelessness is one of the purest political gains that can be made.
It is a gain for our brothers and sisters in society through political means.