John Healey, the Labour Party’s Shadow Housing Minister, visited Catching Lives yesterday to find out more about the rising cost of homelessness in Canterbury. Rough sleeping in Canterbury has more than doubled since 2010 and now has the second highest problem in the South East, beaten only by Brighton. Staff and service users from Catching Lives talked with John about how hard it was to live on the streets and indicated that they expect the official figure for people sleeping rough to rise again in January when the new statistics are published.
When asked whether Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to “end homelessness” was practical, John responded “it is, because we know what works!”. Between 1997 and 2007 the Labour government reduced the number of people on the streets by over three quarters and made the pledge to end homelessness in 2011 when in government. Since then the Conservative government has seen rough sleeping rise year-on-year and cut benefits to young people under 21 which is thought by many to be directly responsible for rises in youth homelessness.
John talked with people about Labour’s radical plan for housing which includes building up to “100,000 new council houses a year” and legally ensuring private landlords provide “decent homes” for their tenants. The Labour Party also back the immediate roll out of a scheme pioneered in London which would see 4,000 housing association properties nationwide made available to people with a history of problematic rough sleeping. His message was clear, “this policy could have an immediate impact on the number of rough sleepers in hotspots like Canterbury”.
Rosie Duffield, MP for Canterbury, spoke to a number of clients about the problem of youth homelessness before calling on the government to repeal the cuts to housing benefit for those under the age of 21. With the rain pelting down outside, John cancelled his planned street stall on the High Street and instead spent time answering questions on housing with local activists.
The Labour Party is planning to highlight this issue further with a street stall this weekend. The stall will specifically look at the problem of young families in temporary accommodation. Since 2010 the number of families in temporary accommodation has more than trebled. Figures from Shelter released this week suggest that almost 2,000 children across Kent will find themselves homeless this Christmas.