“Since 2014/15 households approaching housing options [in Leicester] for assistance when they are homeless or at risk of homelessness have increased year on year. From 2015/16 to 2016/17 approaches increased by 30%.” – Homelessness Review 2017.
“In Leicester in 2016/17 3,739 households approached the council for assistance when they were homeless or at risk of homelessness.” — Leicester’s Homelessness Review and Strategy (2017)
According to the latest press release from Leicester’s Labour-run City Council the “City Mayor is calling on the government to take drastic action to solve the national housing crisis, as the council launches consultation on a new five-year plan to tackle homelessness in the city.” (November 15) Under Tory misrule such problems are getting worse, and the Council acknowledges that the estimated number of rough sleepers on Leicester’s streets on any given night has increased year-on-year from 11 in 2013 to a high of 36 in 2016. Therefore, as City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby points out in his press release:
“Cuts in housing benefit, the freezing of local housing allowance rates, increases in private sector rents and a massive shortfall in affordable housing mean that almost every city across the country is dealing with a growing homelessness crisis. This has a massive impact on public services, including police and health, and costs the taxpayer around £1 billion a year.”
The working-class are, as ever, bearing the brunt of Tory handout’s to the super-rich with their lives (120,000 and counting since 2010), and so it is important that Leicester City Council has launched a consultation on its new homelessness strategy — an ongoing consultation which makes the bold claim to set “out how the council aims to prevent homelessness, and how it will work with partners to provide housing support, over the next five years.”
But rather than take the fight to the Tories – which the title of the Council’s press release actually implies they are doing (“Call to Government to act on homelessness crisis as city proposes five-year plan”) – tragically it actually seems that Labour merely want to “make sure we are making best use of the funding available to us.” Assistant city mayor for housing Cllr Andy Connelly makes clear in the press release that:
“The number of people facing homelessness is growing every day, and at the same time funding to councils and other public services is being cut. We must therefore make sure we are making best use of the funding available to us, and providing the services most needed.”
Hence what the Labour Council are really asking the public is “whether they agree to the Council’s useless far-from-socialist proposal to reduce service provision in line with Tory cuts?” The obvious answer is no. Instead we need to demand that our Labour Council follows the plain and simple anti-austerity suggestion that was made by John McDonnell and the Labour Representation Committee in December 2015. This suggestion called upon councils avoid making any service cuts by “exhaust[ing] all available avenues under the law, including extensive drawing-down of reserves and use of prudential borrowing powers, to forestall the latest round of cuts while an effective mass campaign of resistance is built.”
At the very least our Council should be demanding more money from the Government to ensure they don’t have to destroy people’s lives by serving eviction orders on Council tenants who can’t afford to pay the Tories regressive “bedroom tax”. I say this because within the Council’s own latest “Homelessness Review” they admitted that in 2016/17 they had served six eviction orders on their tenants because of this tax. I remember all too well participating in the lobbying of Cllr Connelly and our Labour Council to obtain a promise from them to refuse to evict people because of the bedroom tax, something that they disgustingly failed to agree to.
According to the Council’s latest figures they have an annual budget of £5.6 million to cover the cost of all homelessness services, but at no point do the Council say what they either need, or are planning to spend, to meet the growing homelessness crisis in future years. This is a serious oversight, as one can only imagine that the amount of money spent on providing such services will continue to decrease year-on-year as it has done every year since 2013/14 when the Council were spending around £7.3 million a year.
What is certain is that our Labour Council’s current proposals must be rejected. We must demand that they go back to the drawing board and reconsider socialist proposals to refuse to make any cuts to local services. Most importantly we need a Labour Council that is committed to opposing Tory austerity, not imposing it upon the poorest and most vulnerable people in our city.
Labour’s Non-specific, Non-costed Austerity Proposals
The Council has put forward nine proposals in their latest consultation document and the only proposals that appear to suggest that service provision might possibly be improved — although there is no mention of whether the budget will be increased or decreased — are proposal 1 and 6 which relate to the Council meeting new legal requirements to comply with the Homelessness Reduction Act in April 2018. (On this matter the Council say these changes are being suggested because the new Homelessness Reduction Act “will increase the council’s statutory responsibilities to provide support to single people as well as extending prevention and relief duties for all eligible households.”)
Seven of the nine proposals outlined in the consultation however appear to represent proposed cuts, these being:
- Proposal 2: Amend the eligibility criteria for “Access to accommodation based homelessness services” to prioritise support to those with the ‘highest’ support need. This amendment means they will be reducing access to homelessness services.
- Proposal 3: “Reduce temporary [families] accommodation by half over the life of the strategy.”
- Proposal 4: Make no changes to provision of “Offenders accommodation” (which they explain were reduced from 30 units to 20 in 2016). As the need for such services is increasing every year, the Council by agreeing to no changes is effectively suggesting that offenders will be facing real-terms cuts year-on-year.
- Proposal 5: Young people’s accommodation – not clear whether the suggestion will mean more money will be spent on service provision, but overall the suggestion don’t sound positive on this front.
- Proposal 7: Reduce available units of contracted housing related floating support (STAR services) from 94 units to 74.
- Proposal 8: Reduce “duplication of service” provision by combing outreach and the revolving door teams. This sounds like a cut, although somehow they say this proposal will “improve services for rough sleepers and move towards a ‘transitions’ service mode”. With no hint that increased funding will be available the Council add, with typical Orwellian doublespeak that: “We want to provide a more dynamic and responsive offer to rough sleepers across Leicester through a ‘transitions’ service model.”
- Proposal 9: “Continue existing part funding of day centres” (YASC and The Centre Project). As the Council are not promising to increase funding this represents a real-term cut.
The Homelessness Review: A Call to Action?
The Council’s just-published “Homelessness Review 2017” explains that the number of Council Homes owned by the city has decreased by 989 over the past four years, from 22,139 in 2013 to 21,150 in 2017. Unsurprising, waiting lists have been growing, and in April 2016 there were 11,165 households on the housing register compared to 9,980 in 2013, an increase of 12%. Waiting times for the provision of family size accommodation have likewise increased: “For a band 2 household seeking a two-bedroom property waiting times have increased from 12 months to 18 months and those seeking a four-bedroom property waiting times have increase from 21 months to 39 months.”
The “Homelessness Review” documents how the “real pay” of people living in Leicester has been falling, while at the same time average house prices in the city have increased by a whopping 23% since 2013 (“as of the first quarter of 2017, [average house prices were] 23% higher than they were in 2013”). Thus the Council state the obvious when they observe, “affordability is a barrier for people to access home ownership and to rent in the private sector”, before adding that it is “increasingly difficult for people receiving benefits to access private rented accommodation.” Heaped on top of these severe problems is the fact that “Most lettings in the private rented sector are assured shorthold tenancies which are insecure and often short-term.”
Finally, evictions are part-and-parcel of the crisis in affordable housing, and so “in 2016/17 of the 54 evictions [in Leicester] 13 were families, 1 couple and 40 single people.” The Council go on to say that “6 of the evictions involved debt relating to welfare reforms (all these related to the ‘bedroom tax’).”
Now more than ever our Labour Council must use such damming information to help launch a real fight-back against the Tories!