What is Labour’s plan to end homelessness?
‘Housing is a human right’ was one of the themes of Labour party conference this year, a slogan that we welcomed hearing in various fringe events and in the Shadow Secretary for Housing, Lucy Powell’s main speech.
In her keynote speech, Lucy Powell talked about housing not only as a human right but as a public health issue, something that we have seen very clearly throughout the pandemic.
The Shadow Housing Secretary talked about ending rough sleeping, restoring the link between wages and housing costs, and renting reform involving the end of no fault evictions.
She promised that Labour would undertake a process to engage with Labour councils and mayors about a new definition of truly affordable linked to local wages, and she highlighted the importance of the voices of social housing tenants. The Shadow Housing Secretary said- and we agree- housing is a big issue the public care about, but politics has not given housing the same attention. She spoke of housing as the bedrock to a sucessful, happy life - a sentiment Crisis is fully on board with.
Crisis, however, came to conference with a specific agenda in mind: EU citizens who made Britain their home and end up without one.
We hosted an event jointly with IPPR who are jointly publishing a report with us in November exploring the specific issues which lead to EU nationals being at risk of homelessness in the UK. This includes barriers such as poor employment conditions, lack of access to public services, language barriers and inadequate community links among others.
Our panel covered a wide range of experiences and viewpoints.
Bambos Charalambous MP, Shadow Immigration Minister, gave Labour’s view on how to tackle this issue nationally, and identified the roots of the problem in the hostile environment, citing the Immigration Act 2014, which includes an objective on preventing illegal immigrants accessing and abusing public services. He also added his concerns on local authorities having their budgets slashed by 50% and warned that levelling up cannot happen on the expense of public services.
Cllr Kieron Williams, Leader of Southwark Council, emphasised that tackling migrant homelessness is not about an exceptional response to those who were not born here but an extension of the right of people to have a rough over their head. He also noted that his council had 4000 applications from people who are homeless last year and vowed to not participate in the hostile environment and campaign to support and not deport fellow human beings.
Marley Morris, Associate Director for Migration, Trade and Communities at IPPR, and Matt Downie, Director of Policy and External Affairs at Crisis, gave us an overview of the work of the two organisations.
Matt emphasized that Crisis exists to end homelessness in Britain – that’s in Britain, not from Britain. He noted that a significant proportion of people experiencing homelessness in the UK are originally from another country, and that we will never end homelessness if we don’t tackle homelessness among non-UK nationals who have lives in the UK.
Marley added that many aspects of homelessness are the same wherever people come from – fundamentally it is a matter of poverty and inequality and this needs to be addressed. But non-UK nationals face a particular set of obstacles over and above this when it comes to avoiding homelessness. He echoed Matt in highlighting the need to advocate for a specific package of support targeted at people from the EEA who are sleeping rough in this country.
Barbara Drozdowicz, CEO of East European Resource Centre, gave us the view from the frontlines.
She clarified that destitution looks different in different nations and those immigrants are not a homogenous group but there are universal issues for those facing homelessness. She pointed to poor mental and physical health, addiction to alcohol or drugs, experience of violence at home and in the hands of the state (either because of an oppressive regime or prison), trauma and abject poverty adding to international displacement and difficulty in integration.
Finally, we heard from Katia Massima, a Crisis member and an Italian national who has lived in the UK since 1995. She gave an electrifying speech on her own experience of sleeping rough and finding a home through Crisis. Katia put some of the blame firmly with inflammatory political speech and demonising migrants, emphasising she was paying taxes and contributing to the British economy years before poor mental and physical health and unfortunate personal circumstances prevented her from keeping a stable home. received by far the loudest and warmest reaction from the audience, a testament to the power of letting people describe their own experiences in their own powerful words.
The event left the audience sure that most people when they think about it, regardless of political affiliations, no one in society wants to see people left to sleep on the streets, no matter what their immigration status or nationality.
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