An outspoken Tory Minister has all but admitted that policy choices by the UK Government are at least partly responsible for record levels of homelessness and roughsleeping, particularly those related to Housing Benefit.
Housing Secretary James Brokenshire admitted that Tory policies may be responsible for rising levels of homelessness in an interview with the Politico website, in an apparent U-turn on previous comments where he insisted that austerity isn’t to blame for the current homelessness epidemic.
In an interview with The Guardian, Mr Brokenshire dismissed claims that Government policies, including cuts to social security benefits, are fueling a rise in the numbers of households who are subjected to eviction orders and extreme poverty.
But in his latest interview, Mr Brokenshire accepted that the Conservatives “need to ask ourselves some very hard questions” about policy choices and how those choices have impacted on some of the poorest members of society.
This apparent rethink follows the tragic death of rough sleeper Gyula Remes, who collapsed and died just yards from the Houses of Parliament, prompting a Labour MP to tweet: “There is something rotten in Westminster when MPs walk past dying homeless people on their way to work.”
Mr Brokenshire had previously argued that record levels of homelessness seen in the last five years are a result of a “combination of concerning elements in terms of addiction, family breakdown issues”.
However, when asked by Politico if Government policies have attributed to rising levels of homelessness, he admitted: “We do have to look and reflect on ourselves as to the increase.
“Yes there are other factors that are relevant here, but we have to look at the policy.”
We have to ask ourselves “some very hard questions … for example in relation to the introduction of changes to welfare”, he added, and also “whether we’ve done enough [to mitigate the damages].”
The first ever official figures on the number of homeless people who have tragically passed away were recently published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The figures reveal that nearly 600 homeless people died in 2017, with more than half attributed to alcohol or drug abuse, or suicide.
Ben Humberstone, head of health analysis at the ONS, said: “What’s striking about these figures is how different they are to the general population – 55% of the deaths of homeless people are related to drugs, suicide or alcohol, also known as the diseases of despair, compared to just 3% of deaths from these causes among the general population.”
Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister Melanie Onn MP said: “These figures are utterly shameful and reflect a complete failure of Conservative policy on housing, which has seen rough sleeping skyrocket since 2010.
“We are one of the richest countries in the world and there is no excuse for people dying on our streets.
“Labour will provide £100m to ensure that everyone has shelter when it becomes dangerously cold.
“We will end rough sleeping within five years to ensure that everyone has a place to call home.”
The Conservatives reiterated their pledge to eradicate rough sleeping by 2027.