Life in Politics column by Rachel Reeves MP: Urgent need to tackle homelessness in Leeds
Anyone walking around Leeds will have seen the worsening problem of street homelessness in the city.
The issue of a rising number of people sleeping rough is directly linked to the Government’s austerity policies of cutting mental health services and benefits and its failure to provide urgently needed social housing.
However, the people forced to sleep on the streets are just the tip of the iceberg. This week, figures from Shelter revealed that at least 320,000 people in Britain are sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation.
According to the housing charity, homelessness grew fastest outside London in Yorkshire and Humberside and the West Midlands with both regions experiencing a 12 per cent rise. In Leeds, many of those sleeping rough desperately need help to overcome drug, alcohol and mental health issues, as well as support to find a permanent place to live. It is estimated that six people have died on the streets of Leeds in the last 18 months, while other rough sleepers remain at risk because of their complex medical problems. This has meant increasing demands are placed upon the police and ambulance service who are frequently called out to incidents involving homeless people. Leeds City Council is working hard to tackle homelessness and dealt last year with more than 11,000 cases where people were homeless or at risk of finding themselves homeless. The council and other organisations are doing their best to help the homeless get a permanent roof over their heads and create a safe and vibrant city centre by dealing with issues such as anti-social behaviour and crime. In just one year, St George’s Crypt provided individuals with a safe place to sleep on over 10,000 occasions, proving that the need to tackle homelessness in the city is greater than ever.
Last month saw the launch of Big Change Leeds which is bringing together everyone working to help the homeless by giving their time or money to address the problem.
By asking people to donate items, money or their time to an independent fund instead of giving money directly to people on the streets, the scheme aims to reduce the impact of begging and help those in need move away from rough sleeping.
I highlighted this excellent scheme in Parliament earlier this month and have met council, business and community leaders to discuss ways we can further support the project. But we need far more help from the Government to tackle the national scandal of increasing levels of homelessness – something that is a direct result of the Tories’ austerity policies.
In Leeds, we have seen how the failings of Universal Credit is forcing families into poverty, raising the risk they could lose their homes and increasing the pressure on public services.
This Christmas, thousands of people will wake up in temporary accommodation or living on the streets because of the legacy of the Conservative failure to tackle the housing crisis. Rough sleeping has doubled since the Tories came to power in 2010, yet Government Ministers have not done enough to combat the problem. Action is needed to build more homes and to stop rogue landlords who rent out substandard housing or ramp up rents way beyond the reach of many people. The Government must provide more funds as a matter of urgency to help the city council provide the help to end homelessness in Leeds and across the country once and for all.
Rachel Reeves is the Labour MP for Leeds West.