adidas stan smith white Jeremy Corbyn was right to challenge Theresa May’s record on rough sleeping
When I arrived at the Palace of Westminster yesterday morning, there were four people sleeping in the entrance to the Underground station. This is not a matter of poor public relations. There are far more rough sleepers in London,and in cities across England, than there used to be. But it tells us something about a Government that it cannot even manage a cosmetic clean up of the problem on the doorstep of democracy.
So Jeremy Corbyn was absolutely right to devote all six of his questions today to rough sleeping and homelessness, and the Prime Minister was woefully evasive and unconvincing in reply.
Theresa May’s response was all the more reprehensible because she has made such a big deal of her compassionate brand of Conservatism. I thought her determination to do politics differently, breaking with the party’s elite traditions, taking the side of the alienated and dispossessed, was genuine. She said the right things on the step of No 10 when she took office, and intermittently since but she hasn’t followed through.
At today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, she played cynical politics with the subject of housing. She started by talking about the Grenfell Tower fire, six months ago, and the memorial service she is attending tomorrow, to try to make it look as if she cared.
But when Corbyn asked her about the “neglect of working class communities” and the rise of rough sleeping, she retreated into selective and misleading statistics. One of them was that the number of housing market transactions had gone down under the Labour government.
This is bizarre. It is presumably true rises in stamp duty have put people off buying and selling, but stamp duty has gone up even more under the Tories. Butdespite this, the number of houses bought and sold has little to do with homelessness.
Indeed, homelessness is not the same as rough sleeping. The Labour government made progress in dealing with rough sleepers. An early promise to cut rough sleepingby two thirds was fulfilled by 2002 and the problem was stabilised after that, with the total number of rough sleepers on any night being about 400 in the whole of England. That number is now 10 times greater, at 4,000.
The Labour record was achieved by Louise Casey, head of the Rough Sleepers Unit, which combined political will, leadership and resources to deal with the complex causes of rough sleeping and the even more complicated solutions.
It was striking to hear Corbyn praising the record of the Labour government, while Theresa May tried to use statistics to portray it in a bad light. He was right and she was wrong. At one point she claimed that the extent of substandard housing had fallen by half “since the peak under the Labour government”. The same applied to statutory homelessness the legal definition which mostly covers people who have a roof over their heads but who are in temporary or overcrowded accommodation.
In both cases, most of the reduction from the peak, which occurred early in the Labour years, took place under the Labour government. The figures for homelessness are lower now than the peak, but have been going up under the Conservatives since 2010.
It is a shame that Corbyn is such a poor Commons performer. He was unable to tear the Prime Minister’s misrepresentations to shreds, and was reduced to simply condemning the Government’s record on housing as “an absolute disgrace”.
May’s record on housing in general, and rough sleeping in particular, is a disgrace. It ought to be a bitter disappointment to any fair minded voter who took her at her word when she said: “We will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.”But Corbyn needs to show it, not just shout about it.
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