Everyone deserves somewhere safe and warm to sleep at night, so the scale of rough sleeping in Britain shames us all. It is heartbreaking that almost 5,000 people sleep rough on any night and that 726 homeless people died in England and Wales last year.
Homelessness fell under Labour, but under the Tories the number of people sleeping rough and dying homeless has more than doubled. Last year 70 people died on the streets in Yorkshire – four of those deaths were in Wakefield. This is a direct result of the Government slashing investment for affordable homes, cutting housing benefit and reducing funding for councils and homelessness charities.
Wakefield Baptist Church on Belle Isle Ave runs an emergency night shelter which opens whenever the forecast predicts three nights with temperatures at freezing or below. They are marking their 10th year with an exhibition from 27-30 October and always need new volunteers. I visited last year to meet with their dedicated volunteers and saw for myself how complex the causes of rough sleeping are. There was a person with learning difficulties with nowhere to live and a couple who had been placed in temporary accommodation in Barnsley who couldn’t afford the bus fare back to their flat.
The number of children homeless in temporary accommodation has risen to over 126,000. I have seen people with children placed in hotels, far from schools and family support networks and the toll this takes on children’s happiness as they suffer the disruption of living out of suitcases. Parents are unable to cook meals for their children, forcing them to turn to takeaways, and clothes go unwashed adding to the stigma.
And every day I get desperate letters from the ‘hidden homeless’ – families who are sofa surfing or living in overcrowded accommodation. We need decent, affordable homes – but we can’t rely on this Government to provide them.
Under the last Labour Government two million homes were built, and every council house in Wakefield had new windows and boilers to cut energy bills and new kitchens installed. Some even got solar panels to cut the bills even further! A Labour Government will end rough sleeping within five years, and tackle the cause of homelessness by building a million affordable homes over ten years, with stronger rights for renters. We would also provide a new £100m fund for more emergency winter accommodation, and we would make 8,000 additional homes available for people with a history of rough sleeping. Homelessness is not inevitable. We can stop it.
Last week, I met the trustees of the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme (MPS), who are pushing the Government to review the Scheme. The average MPS pension is around £84 a week, made up of a £65 guaranteed pension and a £19 bonus pension. The trustees are worried that the £19 bonus pension could reduce or disappear entirely, which would hit pensioners’ incomes. They are calling for bonuses to be protected, ensuring a steady increase in the pension over time. The Government has taken billions out of the Scheme through the surplus sharing agreement set up at privatisation. It is time they gave something back to miners and their widows. I want to see better pensions for ex-mineworkers, and I am pushing ministers to make this happen.
As ever, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with my office if you need my help: firstname.lastname@example.org.