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18 COMMENT THE SOCIAL NETWORK


Patrick Mooney, editor of Housing, Management & Maintenance


MPS NEED TO UP THE ANTE ON HOMELESSNESS


Patrick Mooney, housing consultant and news editor of Housing, Management & Maintenance, says Whitehall politicians need to up their game in the fight to combat homelessness and cut unnecessary deaths.


t was a sad indictment of the Government’s welfare and support policies when news emerged just before Christmas that the number of deaths of homeless people had risen yet again, to another all time high. It’s the sort of record that is very unwelcome and best avoided. It is also not inevitable.


I


What made it worse was the reaction of the Secretary of State James Brokenshire and his junior Ministers, who trotted out a consistent line about how homelessness is a complicated subject, with many different causes and that the current administration is doing all that it can to address these.


“THERE IS SOMETHING ROTTEN IN WESTMINSTER WHEN MPS WALK PAST DYING HOMELESS PEOPLE ON THEIR WAY TO WORK” – DAVID LAMMY MP


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In town halls the length and breadth of the country these statements were met with hollow laughs and much shaking of heads. Housing bosses and councillors are having to cope with much smaller budgets than they had before the 2008 financial crash. But the scale of the housing sector’s problems and difficulties are all getting worse — whether it’s availability, affordability or providing emergency accommodation. The Office of National Statistics prompted this latest bout of handwringing and conscience searching when it revealed that at least 597 homeless people had died in 2017, up 24 per cent on the figure from five years ago. London and the north west of England have the highest rates of deaths among the homeless, with the average age of those who have died being in the early to mid 40s, far below the average life expectancy of the general population. It was so shocking that it made the lead stories on BBC Radio 4’s main evening news programme and the 10 o clock news on BBC TV later.


Much of the media attention focused on the


death of a homeless Hungarian man in a subway at Westminster, by the House of Commons. Indeed the Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: “There is something rotten in Westminster


when MPs walk past dying homeless people on their way to work.”


ROUGH SLEEPING This was actually the second recorded death in the same subway in the past 12 months. But there were almost 600 other people who lost their lives by dint of their unsettled housing status over the course of the year and each one of them represented a personal tragedy and a lost opportunity. The figures for homeless deaths were released


by the ONS just over five months after the Government published its rough sleeping strat- egy, with an ambitious target of halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it entirely by 2027. It was backed by a £75m fund for local authori- ties with high levels of rough sleeping to use in 2018 to 2020. Compare this sum to the reported £2bn fund


preparing for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which many in Westminster regard as an expensive gamble in Theresa May’s negotiations with the EU. The vast difference between the two figures challenges the basis for Government claims that they will leave no stone unturned in their campaign “to give everyone in our society the opportunities, dignity and security they need to build a better life.” Ministers, their political advisors and civil


servants all know that the principal reason for homelessness continues to be the growing number of evictions from privately rented properties, with tenants failing to cope with the complexities of Universal Credit, or Universal Discredit as it is increasingly being known. Instead they have trotted out lines about drug abuse, alcoholism and illegal immigrants. The reality is that many of those living in


temporary accommodation, staying in cars or sleeping on friends’ sofas are working in low paid jobs and cannot afford spiralling housing


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