While we all know about the health emergency and the economic problems caused by COVID-19, there is also an emergency in housing. If the government does not respond to this crisis in the right way, many more people will be forced from their homes and end up sleeping on the streets.
Before this crisis, our housing system was already broken. During lockdown, too many people have struggled with their living conditions: for many, this means expensive, overcrowded, poorly insulated housing with no access to outdoor space. The COVID crisis has exposed these problems and made many of them worse.
On the topic of rough sleeping, there has been some hopeful news. In March, the government announced the ‘Everyone In’ plan, funding councils to protect thousands of rough sleepers from the COVID pandemic. In the space of just a few days, thousands of people were helped with a place to stay, food and support. This showed what is possible.
As Shadow Housing Secretary, I have been working with Keir Starmer’s team to push the government to build on this success and end rough sleeping for good. We urgently need a funded plan for making sure people don’t end up back on the streets.
To end a pattern of rough sleeping, people with often very complex and long-term problems need somewhere safe to stay and specialist help to turn their lives around. This is called the ‘Housing First’ approach, which many councils across the country are working to put in place.
Since the initial announcement in March, more people have become homeless, many of them ending up on the streets. Others are in emergency accommodation or sleeping in friends or families’ homes but with nowhere to call home. Still more have lost their jobs during this crisis and are struggling to pay their rent. Without help they could lose their homes.
Solving these problems won’t be easy. Ten years of Tory cuts to local authorities and welfare benefits mean there is less mental health support, reduced counselling for drugs and alcohol and insufficient financial support. As a result, many people do not have what they need to help them back into permanent homes. I hope the ‘Everyone In’ plan shows a change of direction, which really helps people get off the streets.
If we can find beds for rough sleepers, we can raise our ambition in other areas too. Everyone should have a home which is safe, affordable, energy efficient, with access to open space, public transport and community infrastructure. This will be one of my main priorities in my new housing role.