To mark World Homeless Day I wanted to share some of the cases my office and I have been dealing with in Oldham East and Saddleworth in recent months.
Yvonne and Mark (not their real names) had worked in the merchant navy for several years. When they wanted to get back to life on dry land they found out that they didn’t qualify for social security support and weren’t considered a priority housing need. When they came to my surgery in January this year, they were living in a tent on common land in Greenfield. Getting them into temporary accommodation was complex and took much longer than it should have. During that time I could see the impact on their health, both physical and mental.
Tom (also not his name) had been working while looking after his mum who had dementia. When she died he went to France to live with his aunt. He returned to England only to find he was also ineligible for social security support. Andrew, Oldham’s foodbank manager at the time, contacted me when Tom had gone to him for some food. He was living in a tent on Dovestones during our very unforgiving winter. There were no hostel places (the nearest one is in Salford) and no support for him so we arranged for some temporary accommodation. After a few weeks of support from Andrew and my office, Tom found a job and was able to get a flat.
Zina and Ahmed were originally from Iraq. They fled their homeland with their children, leaving their family and friends to find peace and security in the UK. They were placed in Shaw and had settled into community life making many new friends with their neighbours with their 5 year old son doing well at school. After 18 months waiting for the Home Office’s decision on their application for asylum, on the August bank holiday week end they were told they had to leave their life in Shaw on the following Thursday. After incredible support from the local community, Serco finally relented and they will hopefully stay in Shaw where they are settled and happy after the immense trials that they have been through.
These are just a few of the cases my team and I deal with to give you a flavour of the homelessness issues Oldham faces.
As many of you know homelessness is not just about rough sleeping. Across Oldham the numbers are low, but I believe that no-one should have to sleep rough; there should always be a bed available and they should have support that they can readily access. It is unacceptable in 2018 for rough sleeping in the UK to have doubled to 4,751 since 2012 and nearly 80,000 families are living in temporary accommodation including up to 100 families living in temporary accommodation, including many in B&B’s, in the last 3 months. Recent reports indicate that the deaths associated with homelessness have doubled since 2013 with at least 449 dying last year. In the sixth richest economy in the world this is unacceptable and shames us all.
After meetings with Cllr Hannah Roberts the new Cabinet member for Housing and Planning, I know Oldham Council are developing a new Housing Strategy, including a new allocation policy and I look forward to this and its early implementation.
But out of the hands of the Council is the very worrying rise in rent arrears associated with the roll out of the Government’s Universal Credit programme, and the link to homelessness that is emerging. The Housing Federation whose members include housing associations, has reported £24m of rent arrears associated with Universal Credit; for First Choice Homes in Oldham it is over £2.5m.
The Government must act. It must commit to Labour’s proposal to build at least 100,000 genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy a year by the final year of this Parliament, to ensure every rough sleeper has a bed at night (as Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has pledged) and to stop the roll out of Universal Credit which is pushing people into poverty, debt and homelessness.