May I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year.
And now 2017 is upon us, I’d love this to be the year we started ending homelessness in our region and nationally.
Because a secure, affordable place to live is a basic right and a fundamental test of the nation’s decency and humanity.
Unless we force the Tory Government to face up to its responsibilities, nearly a million men, women and children will endure homelessness by 2020.
Shockingly the homeless capital of the North East is here, South Tyneside, a borough where almost 1 in 500 people don’t have somewhere they can call home.
In my own Jarrow parliamentary constituency, poor Michael Remmer was found dead last October in a tent in the graveyard of St Nicholas’ Church on Rectory Bank in West Boldon.
The 48-year-old had been camping in the church yard for some time after sleeping rough in the Boldon and Jarrow areas for years.
Popular Michael found the tent with the help of a friendly local resident, who also helped him get the bike he rode, and I agree 100% with the woman who told The Shields Gazette: “It really saddens me to think that in this day and age people are dying alone in tents.”
It saddens me too. It also makes me very angry and determined to do something about it because homelessness isn’t inevitable. The social evil is caused by the failure to build enough homes to rent or buy. We have a political answer.
Brilliant charities such as Shelter and Crisis calculate 275,000 families in England experienced homelessness last year – up from 200,000 in 2010.
If the numbers continue to rise at the current rate, there will be more than 391,000 families suffering by 2021.
The latest estimate for rough-sleepers, who bizarrely aren’t included in the homelessness figures, counted 3,659 souls on the streets of England on a single autumn night.
That’s double the number in 2010, when the Tories seized power.
Unless bold action is taken, in another five years more than 950,000 people could be living in hostels, B&Bs, sleeping on friends’ sofas or in doorways.
What a scandalous record of Conservative callousness when this is the world’s sixth-wealthiest economy.
The Tories added to the toll of misery with a roof-destroying £5billion slashing of housing benefit support, the bedroom tax and a virtual halving of support for homelessness services.
What a disaster when private rents are expected to rise by 16.5% over the next five years, after the number of council houses fell by more than 100,000 since 2010.
I promise you a Labour government would commit to new, genuinely affordable social-rented housing – encouraging councils to build homes.
Under the last Labour government, homelessness was reduced by two-thirds, while under the Tories it’s up by a third.
That single comparison tells you which political party cares and champions working people when behind every bad statistic is a terrible tale of suffering.
Finding and holding a job’s difficult without a home. So is children’s education. Then there is the physical and mental stress.
I believe people who graft hard and do the right thing should be able to find a home.
It used to happen and we can make it happen again.
I also understand why parents are concerned their kids might never be able to afford to leave the family home and carve out a life of their own.
Let’s raise merry hell in 2017 and demand we build a better Britain by ending homelessness.