In February, Boris Johnson announced a task force and £236m fund to help end rough sleeping, saying: “It is simply unacceptable that we still have so many people sleeping on the streets, and I am absolutely determined to end rough sleeping once and for all.”
The Everyone In scheme to protect rough sleepers at the height of the pandemic was widely seen as a success, but Dame Louise Casey, appointed to lead the rough sleeping taskforce, stepped down from the role in August.
Rough sleeping has more than doubled since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, according to official government figures, with 4,266 people estimated to be sleeping on the streets at the latest estimate in autumn 2019.
The next official estimates are expected in 2021, and homelessness and anti-poverty charities have warned of an impending crisis as the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic pushes the UK into recession.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently reported 2.4 million people experienced destitution in 2019, before the pandemic started, including half a million children.
Researchers at Heriot-Watt University predicted those numbers could double as a result of the pandemic. Destitution is defined as being unable to afford two or more essentials such as shelter, food, heating or clothing.
Helen Barnard, director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It is appalling that so many people are going through this distressing and degrading experience, and we should not tolerate it. No one in our society should be unable to afford to eat or keep clean and sheltered. We can and must do more. “
The letter from Mr Starmer follows a new push by the Labour party to support people who are sleeping on Britains streets .
Announcing the party’s winter homeless campaign, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary Thangham Debbonaire told The Big Issue “street homelessness is a moral failure”.
“This year we have really learned that the suffering of another person has a direct connection to everyone around them as well,” she said. “That means we have failed as a society and we have failed society.”
The MHCLG spokesperson said: “Our work is ongoing and by September we had supported over 29,000 vulnerable people, with two-thirds now moved into settled accommodation.
“We’re working with councils, charities and other partners to protect vulnerable rough sleepers this winter and launched the £15 million Protect Programme to ensure local areas facing the biggest challenges get the help they need to support rough sleepers.”
Read the Labour leader’s letter in full:
“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.
Keir Starmer MP”