Sunday 13 December 2020 / 10:30 PM Homelessness / Keir Starmer

Starmer warns that rough sleeping crisis this Christmas is “just the tip of an iceberg” of poverty and destitution

Keir Starmer has called on the Prime Minister to tackle a looming crisis in rough sleeping this Christmas, warning it is “just the tip of an iceberg” of poverty and destitution across the country this winter.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Starmer urges the Government to work with local councils and mayors to ensure access to Covid-secure winter shelter for rough sleepers.

The Labour leader also warns that Conservative policies had “pushed so many more into hardship” even before the pandemic. Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently found destitution increased by 54% between 2017-19, with 2.4 million adults and 500,000 children affected.

The intervention comes ahead of virtual visits by the Labour leader in the West Midlands today (Monday), where he will meet with homelessness projects in Worcester and food poverty campaigners in Birmingham.

Last week, Labour revealed thousands of rough sleepers risk missing out on life saving shelter this winter, as Covid restrictions mean drastic reductions in emergency night shelter accommodation. The party has launched a campaign to ensure everyone has a safe, Covid-secure place to stay this winter.

Starmer’s letter warns that, as a result of the Government’s failure, the rough sleeping crisis is now affecting “towns and cities across the country.” Research from Labour has found rural rough sleeping has risen 60% since 2010.

Starmer writes: “Before the Covid crisis, rough sleeping was a shameful sign of Government failure. We went into this pandemic with twice as many people sleeping rough than in 2010, affecting towns and cities across the country.

“Thousands of rough sleepers risk missing out on life-saving shelter this winter unless the Government supports councils and charities to provide Covid-secure shelter.”

He adds: “Rough sleeping is a crisis which you pledged to end for good. But it is just the tip of an iceberg – the sharp end of a broken housing system and a society with gaping holes in its safety net. Many more people, many of them families with children, will experience homelessness, poverty and destitution this winter.”

Ends

Full text of letter to the Prime Minister:

Dear Prime Minister,

At this time of year, the sight of vulnerable people sleeping rough becomes more visceral than ever. It should shock and shame us all that in the UK in 2020, anyone should be spending Christmas alone and on the streets.

Before the Covid crisis, rough sleeping was a shameful sign of Government failure. We went into this pandemic with twice as many people sleeping rough than in 2010, affecting towns and cities across the country.

This winter, the situation facing rough sleepers is more desperate than ever. Temperatures dropped below 0C across parts of the country last week, but Covid restrictions have caused a drastic reduction in emergency night shelter accommodation. Thousands of rough sleepers risk missing out on life-saving shelter this winter unless the Government supports councils and charities to provide Covid-secure shelter.

Rough sleeping is a crisis which you pledged to end for good. But it is just the tip of an iceberg – the sharp end of a broken housing system and a society with gaping holes in its safety net. Many more people, many of them families with children, will experience homelessness, poverty and destitution this winter.

The community action we have seen during this pandemic, and the huge support for Marcus Rashford’s campaign on free school meals, has shown the empathy of the British public. However, we have to ask why so many people are in such need in the first place.

Even before the pandemic hit, poverty, hunger and homelessness were widespread. 2.4 million people and 500,000 children experienced destitution in 2019, an increase of more than 50% in only two years. This rise in poverty and destitution is no accident. It is a direct result of Government policy which has pushed so many more into hardship.

That’s why I am writing today to urge you to act on these injustices by ensuring access to safe, Covid-secure accommodation for those that need it. And to tackle the root causes of homelessness and destitution – such as unaffordable housing, low pay, and insecure work – so that next winter, fewer children will go to bed hungry at Christmas.

I implore you to act. Poverty fell under the last Labour government as a result of its determination and delivery. It can be done, if there is the political will to do it.

Yours sincerely,

Keir Starmer MP