The government has a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to tackle rough sleeping, says Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and the Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram.
The two leaders – alongside other Labour mayors around the country – have made the unified call for government to honour its commitment to end rough sleeping by seizing the chance presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, reports the Liverpool Echo. The demand comes ahead of a virtual meeting between the Labour leader and Labour’s directly elected ‘metro mayors’.
According to official figures, during the coronavirus pandemic more than 5,000 rough sleepers have been offered emergency accommodation, including in hotels. However, Ministers have so far failed to commit to supporting those rough sleepers into longer-term accommodation.
The statement from Labour warns that government inaction “could see rough sleepers ending up back on the streets” and has called for “certainty over the future funding arrangements.” It adds: “When this crisis is over, we cannot return to business as usual…If the government is serious about its commitment to end rough sleeping, now is the time to act.”
The Manchester Evening News recently leaked a document from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority that suggested the government would not be giving any further dedicated funding for the ‘Everyone In’ scheme that has been ensuring homeless people have safe accommodation during the virus pandemic. Instead, cash-strapped councils were told to use their own resources to move rough sleepers into longer-term accommodation.
The major statement from Labour leaders is also signed by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, Jamie Driscoll, Mayor of North Tyne and Shadow Housing Secretary Thangam Debbonnaire.
The statement in full: “Coronavirus is the biggest crisis our country has faced for a generation. But it has also presented us with a once in a generation opportunity: to help thousands of rough sleepers off the streets for good. Thanks to the incredible work of local government, and dedicated funding from central Government, that opportunity is within our grasp.”
“The Government has rightly committed to protecting vulnerable rough sleepers for the duration of the pandemic. However, the dedicated funding to house rough sleepers is set to run out and no clear plans or resources have been put in place by Government for what happens next. The Government needs to provide clarity on their ‘Everyone In’ policy, to include those made homeless during the lockdown, and certainty over the future funding arrangements.”
“Without this we could see rough sleepers ending up back on the streets. We also need to see policy changes for those with no recourse to public funds, and changes to Local Housing Allowance and Housing Benefit. These changes will help us move rough sleepers into longer-term accommodation and provide wrap-around support to help them stay there. We restate today our commitment to doing everything in our power to ensure that no one who has been helped off the streets during this period is forced to return. That includes non-UK nationals who wouldn’t normally be able to access welfare and other support.”
“But to achieve this we need the government to make the same pledge – and to back it up with actions. Warm words are worth nothing to those who were sleeping on the streets, and people across the country will not forgive us if this opportunity is missed. Mayors and council leaders are doing everything possible, but we need that commitment to be matched by government.”
“When this crisis is over, we cannot return to business as usual. Rough sleepers, some of whom are receiving support for the first time, have been brought safely off the streets. We cannot let that progress go to waste. This is an unprecedented opportunity to ‘build back better’ and avoid a return to business as usual. If the government is serious about its commitment to end rough sleeping, now is the time to act.”
In response, a spokesperson for the Department of Local Government said: “Councils should be proud of their efforts to get rough sleepers off the street, backed by an unprecedented continued package of government support. We have been clear councils must continue to provide safe accommodation for those that need it and provided £3.2m at the start of the pandemic so they could take immediate action and help rough sleepers off the street. Our new rough sleeping taskforce – spearheaded by Dame Louise Casey – will work with councils across the country to ensure as many rough sleepers as possible can move into long-term, safe accommodation.”