Labour housing correspondent Cal Corkery writes:
Many people will have noticed the growing homelessness crisis in our city. The official rough sleeper count in Portsmouth trebled between 2010 and 2015 as more people are forced onto the streets by insecure employment, benefit sanctions and a lack of affordable housing.
In that context it was not surprising to see Portsmouth over the past few weeks join the list of cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds where local rough sleepers have formed their own tent encampments.
Portsmouth’s own homeless camp was set up on a secluded piece of unused land near the city centre. Rather than shifting from doorway to doorway it allowed its inhabitants to have one place to go back to every evening. There was basic furniture and facilities: a sofa, some chairs, a barbeque to cook on and a few tents to bed down in. The space was kept clean and tidy.
Despite all that the land owner – Tory run Hampshire County Council – applied for and were granted an eviction order requiring the group to leave the camp or face arrest.
All this raises the question: what has our own council – Donna Jones’ Conservative administration – done to help the homeless?
- Attempted to criminalise rough sleeping and begging.
Earlier this year the Deputy Leader of the Council Luke Stubbs wrote to the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner asking for police patrols in the city centre to be stepped up to deal with the “problem” of rough sleeping and begging. Councillor Stubbs went on to claim that every rough sleeper in the city had been offered housing support and turned it down, the implication being that sleeping out in the cold and wet was just a “lifestyle choice”.
- Allowed property developers to ignore social housing requirements.
Local planning policies state any new residential development in the city should contain a certain percentage of social housing depending on the number of new dwellings it will consist of. However, the council is routinely allowing wealthy developers to ignore these requirements on the grounds that it would dent profit margins should they be adhered to. For example, the recently approved development of Kingston Prison into 271 luxury flats was waived through despite containing ZERO social housing. According to affordable housing planning policies a site of that size should contain 57 flats for social housing, a number of which could have been used to house the local homeless population. Information obtained by Portsmouth Labour via a Freedom of Information request shows the developer is forecast to make 20% profit on the project, a figure which is in excess of £10million. If the council had challenged this and required that a profit rate of 15% be assumed this would have freed up around £2.5million for the provision of affordable housing.
- Massively cut funding for local services.
Since the Tories took control of Portsmouth City Council in 2014 they have proceeded to cut spending by over £24million with much of that being taken from services which provide essential support for vulnerable residents such as social care and housing. Over the next 3 years they plan to cut a further £24million, a strategy which will only worsen the growing housing and homelessness crisis in the city.
The Tories have overseen a dramatic rise in homelessness in Portsmouth and far from bringing in measures to address the issue they have made things worse by demonising vulnerable people as beggars, not securing new social housing, and slashing the local services on which people rely.
Labour will take a radically different approach, investing in people and communities, ensuring that no one is left behind. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has said a Labour government will give local authorities the powers to build hundreds of thousands of new council houses and to regulate rents charged by private landlords.
At this year’s conference Jeremy Corbyn spoke about the work that Labour councils are already doing to address the housing crisis. Labour run Croydon Council has set up a wholly owned property company which plans to build 1,000 new homes over the next 3 years. Compare that to Donna Jones and the Pompey Tories strategy of investing in commercial property on the other side of the country.
Not only will Labour take the steps necessary to end the housing and homelessness crisis. It will also bring about an end to austerity, concluding once and for all the outrageous situation whereby the most vulnerable people have been made to pay the cost of a crisis caused by the banks.