Government must support people off the street

A homeless person in Victoria, London. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday January 16, 2020.

A homeless person on London's streets. - Credit: PA/Nick Ansell

1,136, that’s the government’s own cautious estimate of the number of people sleeping rough in London tonight. 

Even before the Covid-19 crisis, rough sleeping was a shameful sign of Tory government failure. Nationally, rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010 and the number of people dying homeless has risen by half in the last five years, to 726 in 2018.

This winter, rough sleeping threatens to be more desperate than ever. 

The weather is turning cold, and rough sleepers face a fight for survival, as Covid rates rise and Covid restrictions are likely to reduce the most basic support for people sleeping on the streets.  

Rough sleeping is not inevitable. Homelessness fell at an unprecedented rate under the last Labour government, but since the Tories have decided to slash investment for affordable homes, cut back housing benefit, reduce funding for homelessness services, and deny protection to private renters, the number of rough sleepers has soared.

Shamefully, new rules issued by the Home Office plan to make rough sleeping grounds for deportation for some non-UK nationals. There is no justification for discriminating when it comes to helping people and punishing and criminalising some of the most vulnerable people on our streets. I am very proud that Haringey Council is one of a growing number of Labour Councils who have said they refuse to follow these rules.  

Catherine West, Hornsey and Wood Green MP. Picture: Polly Hancock

Catherine West, Hornsey and Wood Green MP. - Credit: Polly Hancock

During the first Covid lockdown back in March, the “Everyone In” scheme saw 15,000 people housed in hotels and other emergency accommodation yet it hasn’t been repeated.

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I want to see the government make sure everyone has a safe, Covid-secure place to stay this winter. Those with particular needs, such as young people, those fleeing domestic abuse and LGBT+ homeless people must have access to specialist services. 

At the last election, the Tories promised to end rough sleeping for good. Before this crisis, they were already failing to meet their targets.

This Christmas, in the middle of a pandemic with unemployment soaring and 700,000 families already in rental arrears, they need to act urgently to support people off our streets.

  • Catherine West is MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.