Just recently, I had the pleasure of opening twenty five new affordable homes in Bury St Edmunds, developed by Havebury Housing Partnership.
The homes, which provide mixed accommodation for a variety of needs, was delivered through £3.7 million of funding which included support from The Homes and Communities Agency and Adult and Community Services. Coincidentally, this launch coincided with the Second Reading of Bob Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill which has rightfully gathered a lot of attention both inside and outside Parliament.
Homelessness is not necessarily a visible issue for rural areas like Bury St Edmunds and instead, tends to be concentrated in urban and inner city areas. However, homelessness can take on many different forms and even effect those with a roof over their head. For instance, from 2015-16 three in every thousand households were deemed to be homeless in St Edmundsbury. Although minimal, this is 0.5% above the regional average for East Anglia and does not include rough sleeping, which accounted for seven cases of homelessness in our town, in 2015.
Nevertheless, the national picture strongly suggests that homelessness is on the rise. Almost unanimously, studies found that homelessness was most often as a result of unfortunate events and not, as many were made to feel, through the fault of homeless individuals themselves. For instance, family breakdown or mental health issues have a devastating impact on individuals’ life chances; depressing opportunities and often resulting in the loss of a home.
This is where the work of Bob Blackman is considered to be significant. For the Bill being introduced has concluded that a preventive method of early intervention can not only reduce public spending but will categorically help tackle homelessness. By removing the strict qualifications which currently govern local authority support, these will instead be replaced with a duty for councils to help anyone threatened with homelessness within 56 days. This method does not discriminate and instead seeks out anyone before they are exposed to the further risks of homelessness. In addition, the Government has said they will provide council with extra funds to fully meet any extra cost of their obligations.
Yet the wider discussion around homelessness in the UK, as a result of this debate, reminds us that homelessness can affect anyone and as a result of any number of factors. The Chief Executive of St Mungo’s, Howard Sinclair said recently, “…homelessness is everyone’s issue and it is not inevitable”. This Bill recognises that clearly and has rightly captured the attention of much of the public. It is right we throw our support behind this Bill and help put an end to homelessness.
-- Jo Churchill is MP for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket