According to recent government statistics, this year there has been a 64% rise in people sleeping rough in Leicester — a number which has tripled over the last five years ago when Tory austerity first began to kick in.
The startling response of City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby to this life-threatening problem is to continually belittle such vexing claims. Last December Sir Peter even said that the “numbers who are rough sleeping are actually quite small.” At the time he put the figure at 16, while current government statistics say it is 36. Soulsby still refuses to budge on this low number.
Speaking to BBC Radio Leicester earlier this week, Assistant Mayor for housing, Councillor Andy Connelly, had no answer whatsoever for why the Council’s numbers were so different from those of the government.
Either way, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Council likes to downplay the number of rough sleepers. This is because their five year strategy to reduce homelessness (initiated in 2013) “involved closing hostels – reducing the number of beds from 424 to 264” (February 7, Leicester Mercury). These are cuts that are primarily being driven by the massive council funding cuts enforced by the Tory government, but it is critical to remember that Sir Peter and his Labour-led Council have a choice and they could refuse to carry through such cuts if they had a collective backbone.
Action is clearly needed, and needed now! Karen Rooms, Canon Missioner of Leicester Cathedral stated:
“Clearly the current homelessness strategy is not working. Behind these shocking statistics are desperate people; sleeping in doorways, bin shelters, bus stations and parks – anywhere they can find to stay safe and escape the elements.”
Bearing in mind the Council’s ongoing failings, perhaps Sir Peter will have a change of heart in rethinking his Council’s opposition to cuts later tonight when the Leicester South Constituency Labour Party will be hosting a special screening of Ken Loach’s searing indictment of Tory austerity, “I, Daniel Blake.”
Speaking earlier today on BBC Victoria Derbyshire, Ken Loach talked at length about the urgent need for opposing austerity, and on the issue of Labour Party leadership noted:
“I think Jeremy Corbyn is an extraordinary leader. He is the one hope that the Labour Party has had in my lifetime, because he understands the interests of ordinary people, he will represent the interests of ordinary people, and he will seriously restrict the role of big business and corporations – and that is why they attack him, because they know he means what he says.”
Sir Peter Soulsby should be forced to take heed of such comments, as last year Sir Peter was amongst other Labour rightwingers in calling for Corbyn to resign! So considering Leicester city’s so-far risible opposition to Tory austerity, it might be more appropriate for Sir Peter to resign.
Finally, it is hardly a coincidence that at exactly the same time that Sir Peter will be settling down to shed a tear or two over the tragic story told in “I, Daniel Blake,” a public meeting will be taking place just down the road in Highfields to discuss how Labour Party cuts are destroying public services. The meeting will be taking place at 7pm at the African Caribbean Centre in Highfields, and is being held to discuss the local community response to Sir Peter’s latest consultation on selling-off community buildings to enable them to carry through Tory cuts.
Of course, as always, our Labour Council has a choice. They can either continue to carry our Tory cuts by cutting our public services, or they can stand up and fight back and sets a “no cuts” budget for our city. Let’s hope someone ruffles some Labour feathers tonight and puts that question to Sir Peter and his friends.
The special screening of “I, Daniel Blake” is open to Labour Party members and their friends, and will be followed by a panel discussion with Peter Soulsby (City Mayor), Chris Willars (Branch Secretary PCS DWP Leicestershire Branch), Sue Waddington (Assistant Mayor for Jobs and Skills), Ambrose Musiyiwa (Civic Leicester) and Shazia Nazir (ex deputy president DMU SU). Friday February 10, 7pm: The Presentation Suite, City Hall, Leicester City Council, 115 Charles Street, Leicester, LE1 1FZ.