Politics

'Pull your finger out': Can Keir Starmer really deliver change for those crying out for it?

Keir Starmer has promised change. For those at the sharp end of the UK's crises, how much optimism is there?

Optimism is in short supply among those at the sharp end of the UK's dysfunction. Image: Emmaus UK/Supplied

Public services are crumbling. Homelessness is on the rise. New prime minister Keir Starmer has promised change. Speaking outside Downing Street, the first Labour prime minister in 14 years pledged “national renewal”.

But for those hoping to be on the positive end of that change, how much optimism is there?

‘Pull your bloody finger out’

“Pull your bloody finger out, give the homeless charities more money to help the people who need it,” said Phillip Hill.

Hill spent years sleeping on the streets and wants to see Starmer’s government deliver greater funding for outreach services to support rough sleepers off the streets, as well as stable accommodation.

“Truthfully, I’m going to wait and see how they perform. Different parliaments get in, different governments get in. Seeing if they stick to their words at the moment. But Labour didn’t really focus on homelessness and stuff like that, did they? They need to pull their finger out now and realise we need help down that route, and do something about it,” he said.

‘I’m going to wait and see how they perform,” said Phillip Hill. Image: Emmaus UK

Hill, who lives in the Emmaus Hull & East Riding community, said he had seen homelessness rise sharply recently after funding for outreach services disappear.

“That’s the biggest problem we’ve got at the moment, is homelessness. Once we’ve got all those people off the street, all contributing towards our communities, then we’ll be in a lot better place,” said Hill.

“You need pride giving back to you. When you’re homeless, you just don’t care, you’ve lost all hope. But once you’ve got that hope, you can build on it.”

‘I was expecting to feel elation and happiness’

“I think people really underestimate exactly how bad things are in the hospitals. Change is needed, but we’ll have to wait and see,” said Michael Dobson, an A&E nurse in the North East.

“Unfortunately I do have very little hope that anyone’s going to really grasp the severity of the situation.”

The “absolutely brutal” situation described by Dobson includes 30 patients waiting on trolleys in A&E, 21 ambulances queuing up outside, and hard choices prioritising who gets help. “We try our best with the resources we’ve got, but we haven’t got enough,” he said.

“I was expecting to feel elation and happiness, and now it’s just questioning what’s really going to change.”

Dobson added that the lack of detail in Starmer’s plans may have won him power, but it did not inspire confidence in wide-ranging change.

“They were already laying the groundwork a few months ago about how the purse strings are tight, and that we have to restore the economy first before we can make any big changes,” he said.

“To me, that says that the pay that is essential and is required to increase nurse retention, increase nurse morale, and to prevent burnout – which is absolutely massive across pretty much every aspect of the NHS – isn’t necessarily going to happen.”

‘It was a bit of a kick’

Starmer’s manifesto included little detail on homelessness, promising only a “cross-government” plan to get the country “back on track to ending homelessness”. The lack of targets or concrete policies was evident for Lauren, who recently found herself sofa surfing.

“There was nothing really in the manifesto about homelessness. For people that have experienced that, it was a bit of a kick. Because it was like, well you’re campaigning for all this national security and all this, that’s all well and good. But we’ve got people on the street, turning to drugs, turning to crime, and then it’s criminalised. I don’t feel that’s fair,” she said.

‘I’m not that optimistic at the moment,” says Lauren. Image: Emmaus

“As someone who’s experienced that, that came from a good background, got a degree, and had a good job, and that happened to me. I think we need to realise that it can happen to anyone.

“I’m not that optimistic at the moment, because there’s no basis for us to go on.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us more. Big Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

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