OPINION

Homeless crisis would be worse without our best efforts in Brighton and Hove

Posted On 08 Dec 2018 at 5:41 pm

The number of homeless people in Britain is increasing by more than 1,000 a month and reached a total of 320,000 in the first quarter of this year, according to research by Shelter published last week.

Their report shows that roughly one in every 200 Britons were sleeping on the streets or in temporary accommodation, with an increase of 13,000 individuals – a 4 per cent rise – over the second quarter of 2017.

In London that’s roughly one in every 53 people. In Birmingham it’s one in 73. Here in Brighton and Hove it’s one in 67 people sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation.

That is despite, not as a result of, the actions of Brighton and Hove City Council, without which many more would be without a place to sleep.

Councillor Robert Nemeth mentioned a national context in his remarks to a meeting of the council’s Neighbourhoods, Inclusion, Communities and Equalities Committee earlier this week. I’d like to address some facts, some statistics and some national context.

Affordable homes for social rent were being built at the rate of 40,000 a year before 2010. Now it’s just 5,000. We’ve done more than most to increase the numbers built here.

A United Nations report last month said that 14 million people are now living in poverty in this country, something they described as “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster all rolled into one”. Meanwhile “local authorities, which provide a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies”.

There are a great many individuals and organisations in this city, doing amazing work in the field of housing and homelessness, from whom I’d gladly take constructive criticism of this administration’s record on tackling rough sleeping.

Despite everything, this council has, as Councillor Clare Moonan has set out, helped a great many people off the streets or out of temporary accommodation as a result of the measures initiated in 2015.

There has not been a constant growth in rough sleeping over many decades. Figures from the National Archives show a 73 per cent reduction in rough sleeping from 1998 to 2008.

In 1998, some 1,850 people were sleeping rough on any given night. By 2008 that had fallen to 498.

Labour made a huge difference in government. In contrast, under the Conservatives, rough sleeping has increased by 169 per cent since 2010, to 4,751 in 2017, with increases of 15 to 30 each year according to the government’s own figures.

As the person who made the pledge to eliminate rough sleeping by 2019 at the time of the last local elections, I’d remind everyone that it was in the hope that we would be supported by a Labour government elected on the same day. Instead, we have had a Tory government making things worse.

We stuck to our pledge, in the face of impossible odds, because it was the right thing to do, the right target to aim for. Any party aspiring to office should have that goal, not just accept that having people sleeping rough is something we can tolerate because, as Councillor Nemeth said, you will never achieve it.

If I were an elected representative of the party which, in government, has done so much to make the housing situation of tens of thousands of people so desperate, I’d definitely keep quiet and leave it to the experts.

I’d not use it as a political stick to beat the opposition with, hoping the voters are too dim to recognise the truth behind the numbers and the faces and the stories we see on our streets.

It’s like someone cutting off the water supply, setting the building alight, then blaming the fire brigade for not putting the flames out with the half full bucket they gave them.

Councillor Warren Morgan is the former Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.

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