Steve Beasant

Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Great Grimsby and Councillor for the East Marsh Learn more

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Vince Cable: what can be done to help street sleepers?

by Steve Beasant on 7 January, 2018

The following article was written by the Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable and published on 4th January on Your Local Guardian website.

Over the Christmas period I visited several organisations which are helping homeless people who are sleeping on the streets.

Street sleepers are to be seen locally at night in shop entrances and at stations and in much greater numbers in central London.

They are the tip of the iceberg of homelessness as there are tens of thousands more sofa hopping or in temporary accommodation.

Many of those sleeping rough have complex problems often based on mental illness.

The roots of their troubles can be traced back to broken relationships, difficult childhoods including abuse and psychological trauma experiences in conflict by ex-servicemen: often aggravated by drugs and drink.

One man I talked to, who had lived for ten years under the arches of Waterloo Bridge, had never recovered from violence he experienced at home as a child from an alcoholic mother; he survives by selling “The Big Issue”.

But others have been forced onto the streets by the vagaries of unstable employment, expensive rents and inadequate or unavailable benefits.

I met a young man sleeping out in Covent Garden who was a chef, looking for work, who couldn’t afford the rent until his next job. Another had fallen through the cracks of Universal Credit, forced out of his home by lack of cash for the landlord.

The number of street sleepers is rising rapidly reflecting the impact of ‘welfare reform’: housing benefit lagging behind the rent; disabled people failing one of the erratic, unscientific tests of ‘ability to work’ and young people denied help because of their age.

What can be done? We need more emergency hostels – currently facing funding cuts which will hit provision by the Salvation Army and the YMCA.

There has to be a rethink of some of the brutal welfare cuts. The warm words about building affordable housing have to be supported by government action.

Mental health services have to be built up, not cut back as a soft option when NHS cuts are forced through. And we can all help by volunteering with local charities like SPEAR.

Christmas might now have passed – but the problem of homelessness very much remains.

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