Opinion

Paul McNamee: There are no easy choices. But the time is here

Who will offer the best chance of a hand up for those most in need?

rough sleeping

A child in Britain is made homeless every eight minutes. That means, if one child is made homeless now, by the time you finish reading this piece another will also be without a safe and permanent residence. This adds up to 135,000 kids who will be homeless this Christmas. There is no way of sugar-coating this. There is no spin, no explanation, no excuse. It’s a number that shames us. We should not just be angry, we should be shaking with rage. We cannot accept that this is OK, or that this is normal.

Neither can we allow policy decisions from the very top to be excused so that parents are blamed, or that fingers are pointed at those parents as some set of feckless mass. A proportion of these children are in one-room B&Bs because of Section 21 orders – no-fault evictions. It could be simply that the private landlord, keenly aware that their property could make more money, buck out a family and put up the rent for somebody else. Others may be there because their mothers are fleeing dangerous situations and there is so little safe provision for them.

We also know that the rollout of Universal Credit, with its associated five-week wait, has had a hugely damaging impact.

This is, as declared by Shelter chief executive Polly Neate, a housing emergency. Shelter carried out the research and delivered the report that these figures are drawn from. And there are damning figures aplenty. Some 5,683 homeless families with children are trapped in temporary accommodation.

It’s obvious that nobody in the general election campaign has come up with titanium-plated policies to fix the systemic problems

And beyond the kids, homelessness also accelerates on the streets. Last week, Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid blamed the last Labour administration, who left power in 2010, for the current state of homelessness. That is despite the shocking figures around child homelessness and rough sleeping. At a conservative estimate – no pun intended – rough sleeping has risen 165 per cent in recent years.

There is simply no doubt that almost a decade of austerity measures have disproportionately hammered the poorest in society.

According to both independent fact-checker Full Fact and charity The Trussell Trust the number of people using Trussell Trust foodbanks has risen from the tens of thousands in 2010 to more than 500,000 now. Last year, The Trussell Trust distributed almost 1.6 million three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis.

There is an ongoing issue with the permanence of many jobs and growing in-work poverty. The crisis in the National Health Service is not going to be resolved with sticking plasters and soundbites. We are at a pivotal moment in the post-war history of Britain.

It’s obvious that nobody in the general election campaign has come up with titanium-plated policies to fix the systemic problems. Labour have ideas but the costings are, to be kind, ambitious. The Conservative administration has no positive record to stand on so have spent several weeks saying Get Brexit Done and attacking Jeremy Corbyn. The ground beneath the Lib Dems feels as though it is shifting as they try to remain anchored to Brexit policy.

The SNP have Nicola Sturgeon as their vote-winning focus in Scotland, but obviously this has geographical limits.

We’re happy that a big and growing number of candidates, including all main party leaders, backed our Future Generations Pledge. We believe that it’s an essential way of making long-term thinking become part of governmental policy. It will help prevent spiralling poverty in the future, by thinking about the generations coming next and acting in their best interests.

Before then, we all vote. There are no easy solutions. But we must make ourselves decide. Who will offer the best chance of a hand up for those most in need? This is the way to start making things better for all.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue

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