Conservatives Record on Homelessness is Shameful

Borough Council staff are not to blame for increase time families are in B and B.
Borough Council staff are not to blame for increased time homeless families are in B and B.

Conservatives Record on Homelessness is Shameful

The Northampton Conservatives in last year’s budget ignored Labours warnings of the disastrous consequences of their proposed cut of £100,000 from the homelessness budget and carried on regardless with the cuts.

Demonstrating once again their complete lack of understanding of the problems associated with the Government’s failing economic policies or even worse that they don’t really care about what the impact would be.

Ten years ago it was usual to have families in Bed and Breakfast sometimes for months at a time and for those of us who were impacted by the excellent but disturbing play Cathy Come home written by Jeremy Sandford it was an issue that was given priority over many others.

In 2003 when I was given the job of Cabinet member responsible for housing I met with Councillors Lee Mason and Sally Beardsworth who were their parties housing representatives and we agreed to an all-party approach to reduce the length of time families would be in Bed and Breakfast to below the six weeks that the then Labour Government had implemented.

In spite of the difficulties experienced during the period 2003 -2007 when there  was a Conservative Council with no overall control and as history shows a reputation as the ‘Worst Council in England’ the agreement held and the all-party agreement held with families in B & B falling to below four weeks

It was a policy that continued under the Lib Dem 2007 -2011 administration that saw the time homeless families spent in B & B fall to below two weeks.

In times of austerity and economic hardships and recession history has shown time and time again that one of the impacts is an increase in homelessness, which of course was the story of Cathy Come Home which followed a young couple as through no fault of their own they faced eviction and family break up and in what is one of the most memorable of scenes Cathy having their children forcibly taken away by Social Services.

At the time it raised major questions about homelessness, even leading to the setting up of the excellent Shelter Charity, but more importantly bringing the issue to the forefront of political thinking and consciousness.

Last year I argued that rather than cutting funding for homelessness it should at the least be maintained at the level it was and even increased to avoid increasing the Bed and Breakfast scandal which has a major and long-term impact on the families and especially on the children who may be ‘B&B’d ‘away from where their school is.

Sadly, and it is of no comfort to me to find us saying “We told you so”

The facts speak for themselves,

Since August of last year (2012) an average of  46 families a month are recorded as having been accepted as “Homeless and In Need” defined as mothers with children and pregnant women, of who an average of 31 families have been put in Bed and Breakfast and disgracefully for an average of  over six weeks.

The worst months being November and December which saw 19 families in B & B for an average of 6 weeks and 6 days many of who were in B & B over the Christmas and New Year?

What the data doesn’t include is the number of young people 16 to 17 and 18 to 24 year olds who have applied to the Council as being homeless which in the last year since April 2012 to November 2012 was 141.

The argument for the Northampton Conservatives cuts was that they would place homelessness families in Council owned housing which would be ‘temporary accommodation’ and since August there has been an average of 14 families a month in Council Stock.

Is having children in B & B a price worth paying?
Is having children in B & B a price worth paying?

It is hard to imagine what thankfully many people don’t have to experience, the ignominy and embarrassment of through no fault of their own having to plead for a home for their children, or the real difficulties of being housed in B & B accommodation without knowing how long you’ll be there.

The B & B homelessness issue also has a very significant impact on the taxpayer with the cost of B & B between May 2012 and last month (January 2013) being £396,500 of which the Council can only claim back £158,000  leaving a cost to Northampton tax payers of over £238,000.

Or put another way the equivalent to a 1.75% increase in the Borough Council Tax.

Are having families with young children in Bed and Breakfast for over 47 days a price worth paying for a failed economic and social policy?

I’m sure the majority of people in Northampton would agree that it isn’t.

The problem of course is that in this year’s budget the Northampton Conservatives are going to make things a great deal worse with their implementation of the ‘bedroom tax’, ‘council tax support changes’, huge above inflation increases in rents’ and other changes and cuts to front line services that will lead to increased debt and homelessness.

And all of this at a time when the Northampton Conservatives  have chosen across the road at the County to pay themselves a pay rise of 27%, £2,000 a year whilst spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on pet projects.

Is there any wonder that people despair of modern-day politics where self-interest and striving for a headline takes precedence over delivering support and services to the people who pay their wages?