Phelim Mac Cafferty: No justification for slow progress on homeless

Phelim Mac Cafferty
Phelim Mac Cafferty

One in 69 people in Brighton and Hove are homeless. Our city is ranked 20th of UK cities for homelessness, surpassing many London councils.

These are the alarming findings of a report from Shelter published this week. Life for people who have no place to call home is often very disturbing. People sleeping rough are 150 times more likely to be fatally assaulted and three times more likely to die of hypothermia and pneumonia.

There can be no doubt that the toxic cocktail of welfare reforms, cuts to public services and a lack of affordable housing, have exacerbated this crisis. Against a backdrop of low wages and skyrocketing housing costs, Shelter has estimated that up to eight million people, particularly families, are just one pay cheque away from losing their home. Unaffordability of private rented housing is the leading cause of homelessness.

So called ‘affordable’ housing is too often anything but. Developers aided by Conservative legislation hide behind ‘viability assessments’ to protect their profit margins. In 11 councils the use of these assessments contributed to 79 per cent fewer affordable homes.

Yet ways to fix the housing crisis are being ignored. The Government continues to block councils’ borrowing to build more affordable housing. We still don’t have homes flogged under the failed ‘Right to Buy’ replaced like for like.

Locally, one of the few things the Labour Council said they would do is combat rough sleeping, but progress is painfully slow. A year after Green councillors successfully pressured the council to open up empty buildings for rough sleepers, there is no night shelter in sight. We need immediate action on this, and better protection for those at risk – including adopting our proposal of no evictions for those faced with Universal Credit delays.

In the fifth richest country, there is no justification for slow progress on homelessness. If, as Gandhi once wrote, society is measured by how it treats its weakest then the increasing numbers of people forced to spend winter nights in shop doorways is a sign of abject political failure.

Phelim Mac Cafferty is the convenor of the Green Group on Brighton & Hove City Council.