13,850 households were accepted as homeless between April and June of this year
It should be no surprise to anyone that the escalating issue of homelessness was barely mentioned during four days of rhetoric and self-congratulation at the Conservative party conference.
With the Tories having overseen the most savage cuts to the poorest in society in a generation, it was inevitable that homelessness would indeed be on the rise in Britain, and off the agenda of the Conservative Conference 2015.
For all of their rhetoric and false promises, like the hollow Housing Bill, or the wolf in sheep’s clothing Living Wage, the Conservatives have shown yet again that their priorities do not lie with society’s least fortunate.
The number of people sleeping rough in Britain has risen 55 per cent since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, with London seeing the highest increase.
In 2008, Boris Johnson pledged to end homelessness in London, but the following year the Combined Homeless And Information Network (CHAIN) reported that 6,508 people slept rough in the capital in 2012/13.
More recently, it was discovered that 13,850 households were accepted as homeless between April and June of this year, a 5 per cent increase across England and a 10 per cent rise in London.
Factor in the cuts to housing benefits for 18 to 21-year-olds, and the lack of a plan to tackle this crisis, and it may be a foregone conclusion that this increase is going to continue. Many more people will be sleeping rough in the capital and elsewhere over the course of this parliament.
Homelessness is clearly not high on the Conservative party’s agenda, and their attacks on welfare and housing have only confirmed this. Yesterday David Cameron promised an, ‘all out assault on poverty’, but his track record so far suggests that homelessness does not come under this remit.
Instead, Cameron launched his proposal to build 200,000 new starter homes, intended to ease the housing crisis. While this will help – insofar as there will be more homes in the country – it will have no impact on those in poverty.
The homelessness charity Shelter has suggested that only those households earning over £50,000, or £70,000 in London, will stand a chance of buying these houses. And of those on the new living wage in poorer areas? Only 2 per cent will find these new homes affordable.
With the Tories either incapable or unwilling to focus any attention on the homelessness crisis, Labour missed a golden opportunity to scrutinise the government’s terrible record on the issue at the last election.
One of Labour’s main strengths is its compassion in the face of ruthless Conservative ideology, yet homelessness was notable by its absence in the last Labour manifesto. Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who has been a passionate advocate for the homeless, Labour can finally take the lead on the issue.
That is why the Labour Campaign to End Homelessness has been set up, with the intention of enshrining a pledge to end homelessness in the 2020 manifesto and eradicate it completely by 2030.
It is crucial that this issue is at the forefront of Labour thinking in the next five years, not only to show our compassionate side but to help those who for various reasons have found themselves living on the street in the world’s fifth largest economy.
With greater awareness, a consistent house-building scheme, greater involvement from local authorities, greater co-operation among local government, the NHS, the police, charities and community organisations, as well as proper funding, homelessness in Britain could be a thing of the past.
Britain could emerge as one of the world’s leading humanitarian nations on the homelessness issue and make a huge impact on the lives of thousands around the country.
Whether this can happen under a Conservative government, however, remains to be seen.
Ryan Maynes is a freelance journalist and Labour activist. Follow him on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.