The Big Issue Platform – ft. Leanne Wood, Leader of Plaid Cymru

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Leanne Wood – Leader of Plaid Cymru

The start of 2018 gives us a chance to consider the situation of street sleepers. The lingering cold weather will serve as a reminder that seasonal goodwill alone cannot overcome this injustice. This growing problem needs action.

I have been raising the issue of homelessness and street sleeping for months with the Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones’ Labour government. It is harrowing to see the growing numbers sleeping in the streets of the cities and large towns.

Wales is a different country to England. We share many crucial aspects which affect homeless people, such as the same austerity and failing welfare reform policies from the Tory UK government. But we have our own government and parliament, and there are things that the Welsh government could do to ease the situation.

Plaid Cymru would implement a ‘no evictions’ policy. We would effectively abolish the Bedroom Tax. We would get rid of the ‘Pereira test’, which would end the concept of priority need and intentionality. Plaid Cymru would strengthen the severe weather protocols. And we would work towards a Housing First policy to guarantee a home for every citizen as a right.

But Labour runs the Welsh government, not Plaid Cymru. I have challenged Labour’s First Minister in Wales on homelessness on several occasions. He has been unable to commit to strengthening the guidance and support for local councils. He claimed that he had heard how some people choose to be homeless.

Homelessness is a blight on any civilised country, and is caused by the failure of the state to provide a sufficient safety net for people

Countries comparable to Wales like Scotland are showing what can be done on homelessness. In Scotland extra powers have been leveraged from Westminster in order to mitigate Tory cuts, but not in Wales. In Scotland the effects of the Bedroom Tax have been abolished, but not in Wales. They have kept the Independent Living Fund and mitigated some of the effects of the Universal Credit rollout. We would benefit from taking decisions closer to the people affected by them. Plaid Cymru wants that for Wales.

Contrary to some media reports, the housing and homelessness crisis has not been solved in Wales. There remains a housing shortage. The main Welsh population centres continue to see street sleeping on the increase. Investment must be put into permanent solutions which provide people with homes and support to rebuild their lives.

Homelessness is a blight on any civilised country, and is caused by the failure of the state to provide a sufficient safety net for people. Policies, financial decisions and thwarted life chances are some of the reasons that people end up living on the streets, in some cases leading to early and avoidable deaths.

All estimates demonstrate an increase in homelessness during 2016. From rough sleeping and applications for support, through to numbers of evictions and numbers of people in temporary accommodation.

It is my hope for 2018 that homelessness moves up the political agenda in Wales. This raised awareness and anger must lead to solutions and a reduction in the numbers of our fellow citizens who sleep on the streets. Further increases in street sleeping this time next year will be unforgiveable and will mark a failure, on our part, as a society. Citizens and governments must all take action.

The Big Issue Platform is non-partisan and open to politicians, policy makers, business, third-sector leaders, readers and vendors. Anybody who has an idea that can be part of the solution – send it to us via Twitter @BigIssue, on Facebook, email editorial@bigissue.com or write to us: The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW.

Read the ideas for tackling rough sleeping shared via The Big Issue Platform by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.