Housing

John Bird calls for overhaul of education spending in homelessness debate

Lord Bird of Notting Hill said early-stage intervention for young people is essential to properly deal with rising homelessness and poverty

John Bird, founder of The Big Issue

John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, has called for an overhaul in education funding during a key House of Lords debate on homelessness.

Lord Bird of Notting Hill, who was appointed to the House of Lords as a non-party crossbench peer in October 2015, said increasing government spending on early-stage intervention for young people was a necessity to defeat rising levels of homelessness and poverty in Britain.

“In Britain today we fail 30 per cent of our children in school – and those 30 per cent of our children become 70 to 80 per cent of our prison population, and become 60, 70 or 80 per cent of the people on social security,” he said during Wednesday’s debate (September 7, pictured left).

“You get a situation where families are broken, where our children are not given places of safety, where social security is not used as a place of security, and so what happens is you produce another generation of people who become homeless.

“Lord Cashman says that we could all be homeless – we could be – but the chances are that, if you were failed at school, if your parents are on social security, if you live in a council flat on social security, you are more likely not to go to university and you will in fact have to rely on the university of the streets or the university of the social security office.

“Most of the people I have worked with over the past 25 years, 95% of them – with some notable exceptions, such as the man who went to school with Prince Charles – come from the same social background as those people who were failed in school.”

John Bird’s call comes as Prime Minster Theresa May has set out controversial government plans to create a new grammar school system in England and Wales.

Speaking today she said she wanted a new “meritocratic society” and claimed Grammar schools would help this.

Bird said he wanted to find a way to help those in society who are most in need.

“After 25 years of The Big Issue, I have come into the House of Lords to help to dismantle poverty, not to make the poor comfortable, not to parry with the Government over this, that and the other; I have come into the House of Lords to find methods of changing the way in which we produce another generation of [homeless] people.

“We should be breaking open the issue of those 30 per cent of children who will go on to fill our prisons, our hostels, our streets and our social security queues.”

We are producing another generation of people who will become homeless

Government figures show that homelessness is on the rise in England and Wales, with 29,120 applications made to councils for emergency assistance with housing in the first quarter of 2016.

Youth homelessness charity Depaul also recently reported a 30 per cent increase in the number of young people it helped find emergency beds last year.

Next month the Commons will debate the introduction of the Homeless Reduction Bill, which would require councils to provide practical help to anyone who is homeless or at risk of losing their home, regardless of whether they are deemed to be in priority need.

“One of the reasons why there were so many homeless people in 1991 was that at the end of the Thatcher Administration, the social security laws had been changed and children of parents on social security from the ages 16 to 17 were refused social security. So social security was withdrawn,” Lord Bird added.

“[Homelessness] is something that every Government in the last 25 years since I started the Big Issue have dealt with; every Government have had their favourites and particular twists on the situation of homelessness.”

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