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Friday, 21 December 2018

Labour blames sharp rise in homeless deaths on 'Government choices'

Written by Alain Tolhurst and Richard Wheeler

Labour has blamed the sharp rise in deaths of homeless people on the "results of Government decisions, Government choices" after figures showed almost 600 died last year.

After the death of a man sleeping rough outside the entrance to Parliament earlier this week, shadow housing minister Melanie Onn (pictured) accused the Conservatives of "complacency".

She also said Housing Secretary James Brokenshire had "blamed vulnerable people" for becoming homeless, something he strongly denied.

Earlier he told the Commons the Government had a "moral duty to act" after Office for National Statistics (ONS) research showed the number of deaths of rough sleepers and those in emergency accommodation rose from 482 in 2013 to 597 last year across England and Wales.

He pointed to a Government strategy and funding to support outreach workers and offer bed spaces, adding: "The death of anyone who is homeless is a tragedy.

"We remain focused and resolute in our commitment to make rough sleeping a thing of the past and where we need to do more, we will."

He referenced the case of Gyula Remes, who was found in an underpass outside Westminster Station on Tuesday night, next to the door where MPs enter the Houses of Parliament. He died in hospital.

Mr Brokenshire said: "I share the sadness that every member of this House will feel on learning of the death of a homeless man close to Parliament only yesterday."

In response Labour's Ms Onn (Great Grimsby) said: "I'm sure that all colleagues will be equally as shocked and distressed as I was, but it's not the first time - it's not even the first time this year.

"In February this year another man died in the same place. So what will it take to shake this Government out of its complacency and out of its outsourcing of responsibility?"

She said the ONS figures "are the result of an increasingly fractured system of social security and support, results of Government decisions, Government choices".

"Can Mr Brokenshire, rather than blaming vulnerable people, as he did in his article yesterday in The Guardian, for these failings, saying it was their fault... can he acknowledge that more support is needed?

"This place has proved under previous administrations that it does not need to wait for nine years to solve a homelessness problem. If previous administrations can do it, why can't he?"

Mr Brokenshire responded: "I share a great deal of her focus, her attention and the issues that she has flagged to the House this morning.

"I would also challenge her very firmly on what she said in terms of direct accusation in terms of my own viewpoint in relation to rough sleeping. No one chooses to be on the street. No one chooses that life.

"There is absolutely no complacency, from me or from this side of the house, in terms of the need to deal with this urgent issue."

Speaker John Bercow, before the urgent question on the topic, expressed his "sadness" on behalf of all MPs about Mr Remes' death.

Labour's Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) said: "Every death of a homeless person is a stain on our society.

"If we are judged as a nation and a government on how we treat our vulnerable, then our nation and our Government are broken."

Ms Sherriff said she would make it her new year's resolution to do everything she could to alleviate homelessness in the country.

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