Thank you to everyone who contacted me about ending homelessness. I was delighted to be able to meet with Shelter at Labour Party Conference, and to reaffirm that tackling the housing emergency is a top priority for Labour, as Keir Starmer set out in his conference speech.
Homelessness is an issue close to my heart, because having been an MP for eighteen years I have seen firsthand from many constituents the devastating impact the housing crisis is having in our community. Some of the statistics are so shocking that it sometimes takes me a minute to process them – such as the grim fact that one in fifty people in London are homeless, including 83,500 children.
Meanwhile, the number of people sleeping rough in England is 74% higher than when the Tories came to power in 2010, including a shocking increase of 26% in the past year alone. These appalling statistics make a complete mockery of the Tory manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024. And they’re a far cry from the 75% reduction in rough sleeping that Labour achieved when we were last in power.
Thirteen years into Tory government, I’ve lost count of the times the Conservatives have promised action on homelessness, only to introduce sticking plaster initiatives that do nothing to tackle its root causes. So, while I’m relieved the Tories have finally seen sense and raised the Local Housing Allowance, which had been frozen for three years, it’s unacceptable that they’d allowed a situation to develop where just 2.3% of rental properties in the capital were fully covered.
But perhaps that lack of action is unsurprising when just this month we were subjected to the appalling scene of Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, declaring rough sleeping to be a “lifestyle choice” that could be remedied by taking away rough sleepers’ tents at the beginning of winter.
Fundamentally, we need to tackle the enormous shortage of housing, and particularly social housing, if we’re going to ensure everyone has a roof over their head. That’s why, at our party conference this year, Keir Starmer announced Labour’s commitment to fix the housing crisis by building 1.5m new homes within the first five years of a Labour government, underscored by our intention to make social housing the second most-common form of tenure after home ownership – and available for genuinely affordable social rent. That’s the kind of bold action we need to tackle this problem right at its source.
It will be an enormous challenge to undo the damage of thirteen years of Conservative heartlessness and indifference, but guided by the success of the last Labour government and the incredible local work being done by Labour mayors like Andy Burnham, I know we can do it. Please rest assured that I will always stand up for ensuring that everyone in this country can sleep with a roof over their head.