Lammy also warned of the “inevitability” that homelessness will be the next potential crisis to come out of the coronavirus pandemic, saying that the stresses of lockdown and public rhetoric around inequality “drives people out of their family homes and onto the streets”.
He added: “If you haven’t got the welfare state working in a way that supports people, it exacerbates that problem.”
Lammy made the comments on becoming an ambassador for The Big Issue, raising awareness about the causes and risks of homelessness around the UK.
Lord John Bird, Founder of The Big Issue, said: “I welcome David’s openness on this issue. It’s a privilege to have him onboard as an official Big Issue Ambassador, using his platform to support our vendors and to keep homelessness and poverty front of mind, not hidden in the shadows.”
There were 3,307 people sleeping rough in London, according to the latest official figures, 1,600 of whom were homeless for the first time.
“A lot of the issues could be cracked with the right will and the right attitude from government,” Lammy said.
“The important thing is really to use the power of the state to throw a net around people so they don’t sink. And a home, and employment is absolutely key to that. So this is not the time to penny pinch.”
He said he was proud to join a list that already includes actors Christopher Eccleston, Daniel Mays and Sophie Winkleman, top firefighter Sabrina Cohen-Hatton and TV presenter and architect George Clarke, and to support Big Issue vendors as they continue to struggle through the third national lockdown.
“In good times, our high streets are busy,” he said. “We see vendors and we buy a magazine [that is] committed to ensuring that people who are less well off than us have that lifeline. We’ve got to be there in tougher times as well.
“Our high streets aren’t busy, but The Big Issue is still there. And you can make a huge difference at this time of recession to so many people who need a home and who need that lifeline. Support The Big Issue.”
As a Big Issue ambassador, David Lammy has pledged to campaign against evictions and in favour of a re-skilling programme to help avoid the Covid crisis being followed by a new homelessness crisis.
“It’s an opportunity to build back better,” he added. “There are opportunities here to address some long standing issues in our economy – the structure of our economy; the north south divide; the way that black, Asian and minority ethnic people have been at the brunt of inequality in this country.
“There are many, many ways in which you can build that better if you’re using the power of the state to support people.”