I joined the Labour Party shortly after the 2019 General Election. It offered me hope at a dark time for the country. I am now at a point where I want to suggest policy and I believe my idea will give hope to the hopeless and a voice to those without one.
The Labour Party has always been about people. It was formed to give ordinary people a voice and has sought power in order to improve their lives. The fruits of this work have changed Britain for the better, through the most progressive governments in our country’s history.
Ours is a proud history, with achievements – from the NHS to the welfare state – that have made a lasting difference to the lives of people across our country. Over the past century, we have been the Party of the many, not the few.
We should be here to protect the vulnerable and this policy will do that.
We are one of the most developed nations in the world. We have great influence and one of the strongest economies. We should not have people sleeping rough on the streets.
DEFINING ROUGH SLEEPING
I find that the media presents us with a problem that makes it harder to solve the issue. There are many articles about people sleeping on the streets that also cite statistics about homelessness. However, one is a subset of the other – they are not the same thing.
The following is from the Shelter website:
The definition of homelessness means not having a home. You are homeless if you have nowhere to stay and are living on the streets, but you can be homeless even if you have a roof over your head. Some people in society are fortunate enough to have the support of friends and family. They may provide the person with a roof over their head for a temporary period (at least). The key word is temporary – not everyone can offer this forever. It’s also important to realise that there are many in this country who don’t have that sort of support network. For many of those without support, the only option is the streets. There is also a strong possibility that once you are there, you struggle to get back. There are examples of people who have been rough sleepers for many years. Where is the help for them?
THE SCALE OF THE PROBLEM
The Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government have an annual statistical release on rough sleeping. It uses street counts an evidence based estimates, which are perfectly valid forms of measurement. However, it is only a single night of information – a ‘snapshot’. This means the information could easily be gathered on a particularly low night for some areas. It could be that hostel intakes were higher when the information was taken (the statistics do not include these people). There are so many reasons why this is not an accurate form of measurement. However, these are cited as the official statistics and they need to be looked at.
Paul Noblet of Centrepoint (a homelessness charity) has stated that the statistics are “not fit for purpose” and that “two in five of the local authorities participating in the snapshot survey didn’t even go outside to perform a count. The Chair of the UK Statistics Authority has also questioned the figures.
In short, there is no information available at present to give us an accurate picture of how bad the problem is. What is likely is that the official figures are significantly below what the actual figure is. Far more needs to be done.
THE LAST MANIFESTO
According to the manifesto for the 2019 General Election:
Labour will end rough sleeping within five years, with a national plan driven by a prime minister-led taskforce. We will expand and upgrade hostels, turning them into places where people can turn their lives around. We will make available 8,000 additional homes for people with a history of rough sleeping. We will tackle the wider causes of homelessness, raising the Local Housing Allowance in line with the 30th percentile of local rents, and earmarking an additional £1 billion a year for councils’ homelessness services.
Sadly, we did not win the general election, which means the rough sleeping problem will continue. In addition:
Expanding and upgrading hostels is a fine idea. However, how will this be funded? The £1bn figure at the end only relates to local authority services. You also need to consider the physical space of a hostel building and the number of hostels in a given area. What about availability of expertise and access to specialist training?
Tackle the causes of homelessness as this will have an effect on reducing the rough sleeping problem. However, it is more that an simple financial issue. For example, mental health is another major factor
I APPRECIATE that this was a manifesto. There is only so much space available and all areas need to be covered. However, more needs to be said. There needs to be more to inspire confidence in the voters and provide hope to those who are suffering.
SOLVING THE PROBLEM
There is no single action that will end rough sleeping and there is nothing that will eliminate it overnight. I hope the following points will be considered:
- A new method for collecting official figures
The existing method needs to be scrapped. As I have mentioned, it is flawed in many ways and has been widely criticised. It needs to be mandatory for all local authorities to do rough sleeper counts. A fixed proportion of an area needs to be covered and this needs to include a mixture of city centres, urban and rural. Rough sleeper counts also need to be done far more frequently (e.g. every quarter) and all local authorities must do their counts at the same time to ensure uniformity. The outcomes of each rough sleeper count also need to be made publicly viewable by each local authority soon after the data is collected, with a full explanation of the methodology and the reasons for it.
- Greater investment in mental health services
Not every rough sleeper has the same set of issues and the same reasons for being in that situation. Mental health can play a major part. It’s not just a cause though – it can be something that develops the longer that a person is on the streets. Without proper investment and support, levels will increase and existing rough sleepers would be unlikely to sustain a normal life.
- Changes to hostel regulations
Hostels are often a good temporary solution that gives a rough sleeper respite from the circumstances they find themselves in. Even as a rough sleeper, to access a hostel you need things such as photo ID. If you’re a rough sleeper, you may not have something like a driving licence or passport available. The rules need to be reviewed and relaxed where possible.
- Repurposing derelict buildings
Through the use of things such as compulsory purchase orders, derelict buildings could be converted for use as hostels or some other form of temporary housing for rough sleepers. Once an accurate picture of rough sleeping is obtained, the number of hostels could be based on the scale of a problem in a given area. This would mean there would be little or no shortage.
- Better housing support
- Rough sleepers may get some form of accommodation after a period of time. However, they then have to adapt to normal living. They may not have the support in place for a e.g. tenancy to be sustainable. Local authorities and charities always need to be available to provide advice about finances, education and gaining skills/employment.
- An end to a culture of criminalisation
- A 2017 report from Crisis showed the rough sleepers have had a mixed set of interactions with police. In addition, support and advice was given, but often only when enforcement measures were taken. The report showed that 81% of rough sleepers’ most recent experience of enforcement featured no support or advice. These people are often treated like criminals or people who should be punished. Yes – some can become violent or aggressive, but not all. Enforcement measures need to be reviewed and ideally relaxed.
- Highlighting personal stories
- Rough sleepers are human beings and might have ended up in the situation through no fault of their own. Unfortunately, so many people in today’s society ignore them and walk on. Some are phsically or verbally assaulted, which is just wrong. By listening to existing rough sleepers, we can gather important stories and show society that rough sleeping doesn’t just happen to one type of person. It could also help to recruit volunteers for charities.
- More promotion of volunteering
- Work like performing high quality rough sleeper counts needs a lot of people. Other support given to those on the streets is given by volunteers. Given the potential scale of the problem, there needs to be a nationwide campaign promoting the benefits of working with homeless charities and helping rough sleepings. This would need a multimedia approach – TV, radio, print and online
- HOPE FOR THE FUTUREAs I have said, you need to start with an accurate picture of the problem. Then there needs to be investment and support in key areas. Over time, the actual rough sleeping figure will hopefully go down. With societal change, and appropriate advertising/publicity, prevention of rough sleeping may also improve.Eventually, I would like to see a situation where rough sleeping is a thing of the past. I firmly believe that this can only be achieved if the Labour Party is in power.
By David Kirlew-Morris BSc (Hons)
- A new method for collecting official figures