Hot air and cold hearts
by Matt Coot
With the ‘Beast from the East’ pouncing upon its prey, we must all be considering the cold, hard, fact that for the seventh year in a row, rough sleeping is on a rise. The figures, a rise of 169% since 2010, show that 4,751 people slept rough during 2017. These figures are rising year on year and now, with the temperatures dropping significantly, we need to consider just why this is and how to help those who are less fortunate.
In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge was asked whether he would donate any of his vast wealth to help the less fortunate during the cold winter.
Upon hearing that many of the poor would rather die than go to one of the terrible workhouses or, even worse, prison, Scrooge responded with, “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population”. When I consider what the Conservative government’s cabinet might discuss about the homelessness crisis, this part of A Christmas Carol always comes to mind.
In 2010, the Conservative Party rose to power, aided by the Liberal Democrats in a coalition, and it is no surprise that since that date, homelessness has risen year on year. The data speaks for itself:
- 2010: 1,768 rough sleepers;
- 2011: 2,181 rough sleepers;
- 2012: 2,309 rough sleepers;
- 2013: 2,414 rough sleepers;
- 2014: 2,744 rough sleepers;
- 2015: 3,569 rough sleepers;
- 2016: 4,134 rough sleepers;
- 2017: 4,751 rough sleepers.
Between 2010 and 2014, the number of rough sleepers seemed to steadily rise by rather low numbers, even slowing the increase as each year went by. However, after the next general election left the country with a sole Conservative government, the country was also left with high numbers of additional rough sleepers each year. The jump between 2014 and 2015 was 825 additional rough sleepers; the rise between 2015 and 2016 was another large increase of 565 rough sleepers; and the increase between 2016 and 2017 was 617 rough sleepers. Without the Liberal Democrats to keep the Tories in check, the country has seen a significant growth in the numbers of desperate people sleeping rough on the streets of this nation. Can we really allow this to continue?
Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of the charity Crisis, which aims at reducing the number of homeless people in the UK, has previously been quoted as saying, “It is truly a catastrophe that in a country as prosperous as this, more and more people are finding themselves forced to sleep in dangerous and freezing conditions when we have evidence to show how the situation could be turned around.”
Indeed, there is much evidence to show how the situation could be turned around, but it seems that instead of actually sorting out the problems, the government are intent on churning out the same old crap policies polished up and pretending to be new. There has been a recent commitment to allocate funding to tackle this dire disaster of rough sleeping. But, after seven years of failure, can we really trust this ‘promise’? And is it only me who thinks that their pledge to end rough sleeping and homelessness by 2027 is just a little smoke and mirrors?
The government is fully aware that they are in trouble and that once Brexit has been dealt with, they are going to fail at the next general election. Despite the evidence to the contrary, the Conservative Party isn’t actually full of idiots. No, they are actually relatively intelligent, just a little cold hearted. So when they promise to end rough sleeping by 2027, this is just hot air. The promise is there so that when they do eventually lose, they can then blame the next government. From the Opposition benches, the Tory MPs will be able to shout and bluster about how they would have been able to end homelessness and rough sleeping but how the new government was failing to match that. Yes, it is advanced planning of PR spin. That’s all.
You see, if this party actually gave a damn about the number of people sleeping rough, they would have actually dealt with the causes of the problem. They would not have made cuts in welfare, housing, and community support. They would not have made life easier for landlords but tougher for tenants. They would not have imposed punitive measures with inhumane crackdowns and zero tolerance. Before this new commitment, this government didn’t give damn about the homeless, didn’t care about those sleeping rough, and did nothing at all to help the less fortunate. Why should we trust them now?
Here are some measures that would work:
- Improve support services:
- Improve services that offer mediation for families;
- Improve services that offer respite care;
- Improve mental health services;
- Improve other health care services;
- Initiate strategies and services for social inclusion.
- Increase funding for hostels:
- This has steadily reduced over the last decade, but this is what is needed most.
- Hostels are being kept open only by the generosity of the public.
- Stop subsidising landlords:
- £9.3 billion of taxpayers money went to private landlords in 2015-2016;
- Instead of doing this, the government could use that money to build truly affordable homes.
- Offer incentives to employers and education establishments:
- Schools, colleges, and universities should be offered monetary incentives to take on former homeless people to further their skills to make them more likely to be employed;
- Employers should be offered monetary incentives to take on apprentices who were homeless.
- As mentioned, there needs to be a commitment to build truly affordable homes;
- There also needs to be a restriction on properties being sold as second homes.
But what can we do?
It isn’t only those in political positions of power that can help the homeless. We can all help in really simple ways.
You know those loyalty cards you get every time you buy a hot drink? Is it full? Great! Why not give your free drink to the next rough sleeper you see. Of course, the same can be done for loyalty cards that give food. This way, you are making sure that you are helping with making sure the rough sleeper is having fluids and/or nutrition, but you’re also making sure not to make your own situation worse. After all, I know what its like to be constantly in the red!
Across the next few days with the Beast of the East attacking us, don’t just walk on by. Temperatures are dropping and we face the risk of deaths by hypothermia, and other temperature related illnesses. Instead, use StreetLink. Using this alert system will make sure that a notification is sent to the local authority or outreach service. This will enable these services to reach out and give support to the person sleeping rough. If you’re unable to alert StreetLink on their website, call their 24-hour hotline on 0300 500 0914. StreetLink work across England and Wales.
Whatever you do, don’t just ignore the rough sleeper. Even if you can’t give them anything, at least make eye contact and speak to them. That social interaction can really help when you’re at your lowest point.
And what about the next election?
Look at the statistics. Can we really trust the Conservative Party to care for the people in this country? Really?
I think that clearly shows what we should all be doing at the next election.