The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 19th January. Once the excitement of the festive season is over, and before we’re welcomed with the colour and warmth of spring, the long nights of winter often feel cold, wet, and never-ending. But whilst this period can be difficult, we’re at least in our homes, with the heating on and a roof over our heads. Too many others simply aren’t afforded that luxury, and make do with unsuitable and overcrowded temporary accommodation, or even face these conditions out on the streets, in doorways, or on park benches. Because homelessness is still widespread, rising in number, and has been for some time. For instance, the number of households in temporary accommodation or shelter and classified as homeless has grown 65 per cent since 2010. And the number of people sleeping rough on our streets has grown by over 130 per cent in the same period. Meanwhile, since 2010 homelessness among people with mental and physical health problems – some of the most vulnerable in our society – has increased by around 75 per cent. This pattern is replicated locally, too. Across the Yorkshire and Humber region the number of people sleeping rough rose by just under 50 per cent. A lack of affordable housing, local authorities under huge financial strain and unable to provide services, wage stagnation, rising rents and a squeeze on welfare has left people unable to pay rents, are all partly responsible for the current situation. But whilst the causes are varied, what is clear is that after an unprecedented decline in homelessness under the last Labour government, the huge rise in homelessness since 2010 is a national shame. We need to immediately set about tackling these root causes of rough sleeping and homelessness, reserve additional homes for people with a history of sleeping rough and financially safeguard homeless hostels and supported housing. Nobody should be forced into unsuitable and cramped accommodation or out on to the streets, especially in these difficult winter months.Continue readingLast week I visited the foodbank at Cudworth Library last week I was told of the disastrous impact the roll-out of universal credit has had in forcing people to seek help – a message I’ve heard from other foodbanks in our community. I want to pay tribute to the amazing work the volunteers there do helping people in their time of need. But it’s time this Government explained why they think it’s acceptable to make struggling people here in Barnsley East choose between heating and eating. Watch me challenge them on this in Parliament here.Continue reading
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