Five questions I’d like answered in the TV election debates
I don’t know exactly what the upcoming TV election debates will cover, but they are unlikely to talk about homelessness or rough sleeping in great detail.
But if I were David Dimbleby, here are five things I’d ask the party leaders as they go head to head:
1. How will you tackle the rise in homelessness?
After years of declining trends, all forms of homelessness have risen due to the shortage of housing and ongoing effects of the economic recession combined with government policies – particularly cuts to housing benefit.
Last year in England 111,960 people made a homelessness application to their local council – a 26% increase since 2010. And this figure is just the tip of the iceberg – we know that there are many more people living in hostels, in overcrowded or unsuitable accommodation or in the worst cases sleeping on the streets.
We badly need politicians of all parties to commit to tackling the causes of homelessness.
2. Do you think it’s right that people are forced to sleep rough on the streets?
Of course it is not acceptable that in the 21st century people are still left with no choice but to sleep on the streets.
Rough sleeping has risen. Government street counts show that in 2014 around 2,744 people slept rough on any given night across England, a 55% increase on 2010.
As the legislation stands, most single homeless people are not considered to be a priority, meaning their council has no legal duty to house them. This means many are ignored and given little or no help.
Crisis wants all political parties to make a manifesto commitment to review the help single homeless people get under the homelessness legislation. This is what our No One Turned Away campaign has been calling for and we have had commitments from a number of political parties. If they get into power they must turn this commitment into action.
3. How will you tackle the housing crisis, so that people at the bottom of the market have a decent and secure place to live?
We are not building enough homes. We are definitely not building enough affordable homes. There is a direct link between the lack of affordable housing and homelessness – there is no hiding from it.
In addition, the current political rhetoric around housing is mainly about enabling young professionals to realise their dream of owning a house. This is important but what we really need to see from all parties is a pledge to end the housing crisis and for more genuinely affordable homes to be built.
At the recent Homes for Britain rally all major political parties committed to ending the housing crisis within a generation. Now we need to see real action from the next government.
4. Will you reform the sanctions system?
The current sanctions system is leaving people at severe risk of homelessness. You only need to read the story of Carlos to see this.
Evidence shows that a large number of people are being sanctioned incorrectly or inappropriately, and around half of reconsidered cases are overturned.
I would like to see the next government commit to a full independent review of the appropriateness and effectiveness of the current regime. Cross party MPs from the Work and Pensions Select Committee have also called for this.
5. What are your plans for the welfare system?
There are many different reasons that people need support from benefits. Too often, politicians and the media use irresponsible language and even blame people for their situation. The Who Benefits? Campaign has been set up to tell the real stories of people who’ve been supported by benefits and the difference it made in their lives.
I want to see politicians talking about solutions to the structural problems which lead to people relying on the benefits system, like low paid or insecure jobs and high housing costs.
Finally, at Crisis we know that cuts to housing benefit are driving up homelessness. I want to see those cuts reconsidered, alongside action to build more homes and bring down rent levels.