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Homeslessness: the rising challenge

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31 December 2013
Crisis Shelter

Thoughts of Christmas immediately bring family to mind; an increasingly rare moment in our busy lives for us to gather together and share good times. But we also think of charity and compassion for those less fortunate than us.

It was for this reason that on Monday I visited Crisis, the homelessness charity, at one of their Christmas centres at Lewisham College. For people who are homeless, Christmas can be a cold and lonely time. Crisis and other similar organisations provide comfort and support to our most disadvantaged people and so it’s important that we acknowledge the incredible work they do.

Just last month, 16 people were found to be sleeping rough on Lewisham streets and we know that there is a steady stream of people who require support from organisations such as the 999 club and Deptford Reach. Across London, homelessness is on the rise; 6,437 people were seen sleeping rough in London in 2012/13. This is a 13 percent rise compared to the previous year and a 62 percent rise compared to 2010/11.

Homelessness has devastating consequences for those without shelter, but it’s also a genuine concern for many people who may be housed but who are close to the edge. In a recent ComRes survey one in eight British adults said they would be worried about being made homeless if they couldn’t pay their bills next year. Changes to housing benefit rules are exacerbating the problem and the phenomenon of “sofa-surfing” is becoming a sad part of life for too many people in London.

The much-maligned Bedroom Tax is also placing enormous pressure on our most vulnerable people and the failure of Government to adequately fund the construction of new, genuinely affordable housing means the prospects for the future are not good either.

In a passionate call for social justice, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol asked us to beware two dishevelled children – Ignorance and Want – which if left unchecked would afflict us all and not only the poor.

Sometimes I think little has changed - getting to grips with the scourge of Want in 2013 is not just a policy of the heart, but also a policy of the head. Preventing homelessness would generate long term savings for taxpayers, the criminal justice system, the health service and housing agencies, as well as addressing the dreadful hardship suffered by those without a home.

I hope in 2014 the Government begins to take in an interest in enabling the aspirations of everyone in society rather than further disadvantaging those who need its support most.

This article was originally written for the South London Press (27 December 2013)

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