Opinion

Tories have failed – only Labour has vision and will to tackle homelessness, says shadow minister

Labour MP Mike Amesbury was recently appointed shadow minister for building safety and homelessness. Here he reflects on government’s failure to tackle record levels of homelessness and Labour’s alternative vision, to coincide with World Homeless Day

Mike Amesbury

Mike Amesbury, parliamentary portrait.

Tackling rising homelessness and rough sleeping will be a key ambition of a future Labour government

Readers of The Big Issue know only too well the damage homelessness causes to individuals and their loved ones as well as the cost to society, including the loss of potential and talent.

A stable home is a prerequisite of good physical and mental health, happy relationships and the base from which to develop a career and raise a family.

We know there are a multitude of reasons why people can find themselves homeless or even sleeping on the street. Their number includes care leavers, veterans, women fleeing domestic violence, people suffering complex trauma and battling mental illness or struggling with addiction.

Thirteen years of Tory failure has only made matters worse. The Kerslake Commission provides a sobering assessment of rising homelessness. And it’s clear the government will fail in its target to end rough sleeping by next year.

There’s a chronic shortage of decent, secure and affordable housing. While a toxic mix of rising rents, the cost of living crisis and a failure to end no-fault evictions is hitting the most vulnerable.

Creating a strong economy and fairer society, with opportunities for all and a safety net for when people fall on hard times, will be the big picture under Labour.

While tackling homelessness in the here and now requires a systemic approach, we should draw inspiration from the success of the last Labour government with its Rough Sleepers Unit.

Shadow minister Mike Amesbury: ‘Only Labour will take homelessness prevention seriously’

It’s time for us to unite across government departments, charities and organisations; pooling our resources, knowledge, and expertise to get behind the common goal of ‘homes not streets’.

Experience shows successful strategies include early intervention and wrap-around support to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place or to pick them up quickly if they lose their home or are forced to sleep rough.

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I recently visited a Housing First programme, spearheaded by Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham, which prioritises access to permanent housing with tailored, open-ended support for residents with complex needs that emphasises choice and control.

At its heart is the principle of co-production, where people with lived experience of rough sleeping and homelessness use their insight to help shape the services provided to others.

Launched in 2019, the scheme has been an incredible success story with 372 people supported into homes across Greater Manchester so far and an impressive 76% of tenancies sustained.

However, there is a housing supply and affordability crisis in the UK. And Housing First, which has similar projects in Liverpool City Region and the West Midlands, is already starting to come up against that brick wall in terms of sourcing future properties.

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Dealing with this mess will be a priority of the next Labour government. The fix won’t happen overnight but must involve ramping up supply, with a fundamental shift towards social housing available for genuinely affordable rent. Building these homes will provide dignity and security to working people.

As shadow minister for homelessness, marking World Homeless Day on 10 October, I’d like to see homelessness become a thing of the past. It’s a national scandal and a tragedy that one of the wealthiest countries on the planet is failing the hundreds of thousands of people recorded as homeless, including many children.

It’s only Labour that will take seriously the homelessness prevention agenda, ensuring agencies work together to stop those at the sharp end falling through the cracks. We have the knowledge, expertise and compassion to make a real change in the lives of those experiencing homelessness.

Where there is a political will, there is a way. We have the political will, and we must find the way. Together, we can make that vision a reality.

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