A Homelessness – A Disgraceful Indictment.
If there is one outcome of the Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalitions failing economic policy which demonstrates their complete lack of compassion it is the rise in the number of families who faced with homelessness are confined to the embarrassment and stigma of having to be homed in Bed and Breakfast.
The increase of 44% since this Government took office in families with young children being put into Bed and Breakfast, where they are confined in many cases to a single room is something we should all be ashamed of.
When I was first given a Cabinet role in 2003 of responsibility for housing the number of families in Bed and Breakfast in Northampton was eighty seven, many of who had been in B & B for over 12 weeks.
I recall at my first meeting with the opposition housing representative councillors that homelessness and the removal of families in Bed and Breakfast was my number one priority and thankfully they not only agreed but joined with me in a real partnership to address the issue.
I should at this stage say that it was perhaps just as well that I made it a priority because a few months later I was summoned to go to London to meet Lord Jeff Rooker who was the Labour Minister with responsibility for reducing homelessness and the use of B & B to explain what Northampton Borough Council were doing about it.
To the credit of the Labour Government and those who developed the Homelessness Housing Policy, which is not in all respects perfect, the compulsory target of using B & B only for emergency housing and that families shouldn’t be in B & B for longer than 6 weeks was a real move forward.
History and the records of Northampton Borough Council show that by the end of 2004, with all party support and a real commitment to ridding Northampton of the disgrace of using long-term Bed and Breakfast to house families, the number had fallen to 10 families none of who were in B & B for longer than 5 weeks.
What is most galling about the current number of families in Bed and Breakfast is that not only could but was in fact forecast and I raised the issue with the then Cabinet Member for Housing in 2010 when it was clear that if the country entered a double dip recession homelessness would almost certainly increase.
In February this year during the scrutiny and debate of the Conservatives Budget in which they cut £100,000 from the homelessness budget and mitigated it by saying that any rise in homelessness would be addressed by using Council Housing Stock the Labour Group made two specific points,
Firstly that homelessness would almost definitely increase and that rather than cut £100,000 from the budget they should increase it and not waste money, in fact £2 million, on trying to persuade Council Tenants to support transferring their tenancy from the Borough Council to a Housing Association.
Secondly, that the number of Council Houses allocated and available for use to home homeless families would simply not be enough.
All of which was rejected out of hand by the Conservative Leader of the Borough Council who accused Labour of scaremongering and raising unnecessary fears.
It is absolutely no comfort to me or the Northampton Labour Borough Councillors in studying the Borough Councils performance information for June 2012 that there are 52 households (that’s families with young children to you and me) in temporary accommodation of who 44 were in Bed and Breakfast and 9 in council stock houses, (yes even their figures don’t add up 44+9= 53).
What makes this even more disgraceful in Northampton is that in 2010/11 the number in B & B was 27 families which mean that we have seen an increase of 25 families in B & B or Council Temporary Accommodation the last year a rise of 48%.
The one thing that cannot be challenged is the professionalism and real commitment that the Borough Council Homelessness staff demonstrates towards addressing the problem and it must fill them with despair to read in the report that “the number of households in TA will continue to rise due to the increased number of applications”.
So why didn’t the administration listen to Labour and the officers when cutting funding in their budget?
There is an expression which is not only confined to the military that is used when someone states the obvious that goes along the lines of
‘No Sh*t Sherlock’
and if anyone is any doubt about the attitude and approach of the Borough Conservatives it is in the recording of their performance measurements which for homelessness shows that the information of 44 families in Bed and Breakfast is recorded as Exceeding or Over Performing because they haven’t yet reached their own Target of 50 families in Bed and Breakfast.
It is now time that the Northampton Borough Council administration start to really give homelessness and the use of Bed and Breakfast the priority it deserves and start to eradicate what is totally unacceptable in Northampton in the 21st Century.
I can guarantee it would be a policy that would receive all party support.