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Homelessness Is A Political Choice

There is a humanitarian crisis on the streets of our country that has claimed the lives of at least 726 human beings in England and Wales. 

In Britain today, more than 320,000 people are homeless, this is a visible, yet hidden, crisis that is being normalised by the politics of neoliberalism, austerity and victim-blaming the most vulnerable people in society. 

Nine years of Tory rule, propped up by the Liberal Democrats, has unleashed devastation on many people’s lives. This is why we must ensure that on December 12th we elect a radical, socialist government ready to deliver an ambitious social justice programme offering a lifeline to those whose lives the Tories have disregarded and destroyed. 

The facts speak for themselves. Rough sleeping has gone through the roof since the Tories took power, with a massive 169% recorded rise. At the same time, across the country, we have a record number of empty buildings and properties accumulating vast amounts of wealth, while people sit shivering in doorways and bedding down on pavements. It is at this time of the year as winter sets in that more people become aware of the crisis that is rough sleeping and homelessness, and this is the backdrop behind which Britain going to the polls. Therefore it’s only right that the issue of ending homelessness is at the centre of this election campaign. 

This election must be focused on ending the man-made humanitarian crisis that is rough sleeping and homelessness. Homelessness is not an individual choice – it is a political choice made in Westminster. 

As the co-founder of the Labour Homelessness Campaign, we are calling on the Labour Party to include in its next manifesto the most ambitious policies to end all forms of homelessness. That means reversing the cuts to council services and welfare benefits since 2010 that have contributed to this crisis, unfreezing housing benefit, developing a well-funded Housing-First strategy to end the need to sleep rough, and ensuring everyone experiencing homelessness or sleeping rough can access support, regardless of local connection.

We need a commitment to building 100,000 council homes every year. We also need to end the scandal of buildings sitting empty while people sleep outside, by reversing anti-squatting laws and providing councils greater powers to take control over empty buildings and open them up for people, not profit.
But housing and funding are not enough: many would not come out of the cold and off the streets because their main interaction with officialdom has been the experience of being moved on and threatened with fines. Labour must ensure there is an immediate end to all forms of criminalisation of people experiencing homelessness. Labour should repeal not only the 1824 Vagrancy Act, but should also immediately stop the use of Public Space Protection Orders, Community Protection Notices and other “anti-social behaviour” orders against begging and rough sleeping, and other behaviours associated with homelessness. Demonising people who are homeless and further shaming them and labelling as criminals is not acceptable and it does nothing to build the trust we’ve lost as a society among the most marginalised. 
We need to see further commitments from a Labour government to building solidarity with people experiencing rough sleeping which would include: 

  • Commit to legislating against anti-homeless “hostile architecture”;
  • Crackdown on the “Privately Owned Public Spaces”, which gives private security power to move on people they don’t like;
  • End the hostile environment against migrant rough sleepers, removing all Home Office immigration officials from homelessness services and providing support to everyone on our streets, regardless of immigration status;
  • Provide free ID to those experiencing homelessness;
  • Ensure those fleeing domestic violence can never become homeless as a priority;
  • Make voter registration as easy for those with no fixed abode as for those in homes.

At the Labour Party conference in September, party members passed a Homeless Bill of Rights. We need to show our commitment to every one of those rights. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end homelessness in all its forms and elect a Labour government committed to changing the lives of the many and not the few. We must make sure this happens.

By Shaista Aziz is a Oxford City Councillor, co founder of the Labour Homelessness Campaign and Co-Vice Chair of the FabianWomen’s Network.