Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Alternative Queen’s speech: homes and health

Sam Stopp presents his alternative Queen’s speech – what Labour could and should be doing now were it in power.

A bill to end homelessness

Under the last Labour government, homelessness fell substantially. In 2015, government statistics showed that 3,569 people slept rough on any one night across England – this is over double the number counted in 2010.

However, respected homelessness charities, such as Crisis, call for the government to commit to ending homelessness, because it can be done and has been done in several places in the world – most recently in the Canadian city of Medicine Hat. As an immediate measure, the government in Westminster should follow the example set by the Welsh assembly of requiring local councils by law to house the homeless.

Now that the economy is in recovery, the government has no excuse but to commit to ending homelessness in all its forms. Based on the Shelter definition, this includes:

  • The chronic homeless and those sleeping rough
  • Those staying in temporary accommodation
  • Those staying in hostels and night shelters
  • Those at risk of violence or in poor conditions
  • Those living in a squat
  • Those living with people they wouldn’t normally live with
  • Those depriving themselves of essentials due to living in unaffordable accommodation

A commitment to ending homelessness would be the mark of a civilised government. In one of the richest countries in the world, the current failure to make such a commitment is a moral outrage.

A local government borrowing bill

Local government has been completely emasculated in the last five years and many councils have had their budgets slashed in half. This has led even Tory council leaders to openly castigate the government for its devastating raid on local government finances.

One of the major obstacles local authorities face in tackling the housing crisis is their inability to borrow in order to build their own housing stock. As a result of this restriction, councils are overly dependent on private developers for housebuilding. If local authorities were freed up to build their own housing stock, then they could begin to address the affordability crisis by building hundreds of thousands of council houses.

There is no reason why councils cannot work proactively and constructively with developers. Developers are a key part of the solution to building sufficient new housing. However, they cannot be the entire solution, as a nearly entirely free housing market will simply entrench inequality.

A mental health equality bill

One of the main obstacles to adequate treatment and funding of mental health in this country is the fact that mental health does not have parity of esteem with physical health, according to the NHS constitution. If we accept that real change flows from changes to the laws that govern us, then we must accept that properly codifying mental illness is the keystone to addressing our woeful approach to treating it.

Ensuring that mental health has parity of esteem with physical health will provide those who govern us with the onus to ensure that the millions of British citizens suffering from mental ill health will at last have access to adequately funded and prioritised services. Not only would this be morally just – it would also make economic sense, given the large number of working days that are lost every year due to people suffering from mental illness.

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Sam Stopp is a Labour councillor in the London borough of Brent and is the chair of the Labour Campaign to End Homelessness. He tweets @CllrStopp

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Photo: UK Parliament

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Sam Stopp

is a councillor in the London borough of Brent

1 comment

  • The plan to reduce local government budgets to the bare bones is of course a piece of carefully thought out Tory demagoguery, in the same vein as the council house (and now the housing association) sales at below market value to sitting tenants. It means that the inevitable cuts on services will be blamed on the overwhelmingly Labour-run councils affected while the government gets away from all blame. The inability of borrow is another such ploy. It is a pity that this was not trumpeted as part of Labour’s election strategy. If the housing crisis were mitigated or even ended all sorts of other problems would be solved, including unemployment, low wages and even mental health.

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