A new policy came out of the Liberal Democrats’ conference in Bournemouth that raised a few eyebrows – no not that one, we’re talking about their vow to end rough sleeping inside five years.
Party members backed motion “F10: A Fairer Share for All” last week which outlined how the Jo Swinson-led party plan to tackle poverty should they get in to power in the looming general election.
The Lib Dems’ change of policy on Brexit attracted the most headlines following their switch from backing a people’s vote and second referendum to saying they will halt the UK’s EU withdrawal altogether if they are given the nod when the public goes to the polls.
— Jo Swinson (@joswinson) September 16, 2019
That somewhat took the attention off their poverty-preventing plans.
Former party leader Tim Farron outlined how the Lib Dems will commit to spending £5bn every year to “make the benefits system work for everyone” as well as slashing the hated wait for a first benefits payment from its current five weeks to five days.
There was also a vow to provide universal access to basic services for shelter, diet and access to digital and transport infrastructure as well as addressing the inequality experienced between those in London and the rest of the UK.
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But they also pledged to end rough sleeping within five years and to enshrine a legal right to food in law if – and it’s a big if – they are voted in.
Westmorland MP Farron said: “I’m a Liberal Democrat because I believe in a free, fair and open society. These reforms are exactly what our country needs. Everyone deserves the same opportunities to excel – and we’re fighting to make that happen.”
Labour has also pledged to end rough sleeping – with no timeline mentioned yet – if they win the next election as well as promising to tackle the root causes of homeliness by beefing renter rights and construction of affordable homes.
The current Conservative government is in the early stages of their own decade-long bid to halve rough sleeping by 2022 before ending it completely by 2027.
On my way to #LibDemConf in #Bournemouth. They've passed a motion calling for "a legal #Right2Food to enshrine in law the government's responsibility to ensure that existing & new public policy is audited to ensure that it won't leave people hungry." https://t.co/aShr8yfg2W
— Koldo Casla (@koldo_casla) September 16, 2019
Government rough sleeping figures this year may have shown a first drop for the first time in eight years, but they were still 165 per cent higher when the Tories came to power – with the Lib Dems as coalition partners – in 2010.
And there are more than a few doubts about the methods used to count rough sleepers – that was something Ross Kemp was keen to talk to us about earlier this year.
So the Lib Dems have their work cut out on that front but their pledge to introduce a right to food is a welcome move for civil society.
It is one of the key takeaways from UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston’s findings on poverty in the UK as well as the Human Rights Watch investigation that was published at the same time.