Boris Johnson's pledge to end rough sleeping has failed. Photo: Getty
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Homelessness is a national scandal and Boris is doing nothing about it

His pledge has failed.

In September 2013, I was contacted by a 17-year-old girl. Along with her mum and her four siblings, she had just been evicted from her home in London. Due to the increasing number of people being declared homeless and the demands on housing stock, she and her family were left with no choice but to move in with the father, a father whom the mother had walked out on because he beat her and her young children.

For her own safety, the young 17-year-old refused to move in with her father and instead made her bed on the floor of a friend’s bedroom; in the shop of an auntie; and, tragically, the back of any night buses that she could get on. As a result, she dropped out of college, went cap in hand to friends and extended family members for food parcels and became ill worrying about her mother and younger siblings who had been forced to move back in with an abusive father. After months of hard work and finding several temporary solutions through the charity sector, we found her a place to call her own through the private-rented sector and she has returned to college and is going onto university. This young girl’s story, while tragic, had a happy ending, but only because she reached out and was able to get support navigating the heavily bureaucratic and punitive process. There are thousands of others who aren’t so lucky, recent figures released by Shelter predict that 90,000 children will be homeless at Christmas this year. Many of these will be as a result of the volatile London housing market, where demand outstrips supply.

In February 2009 Boris Johnson pledged to “end rough sleeping in the capital by 2012” (Boris Johnson plans to end rough sleeping in London by 2012, Local Government Executive, 13 February 2009), yet in the Mayor’s own Equality Report he acknowledges that his pledge to address homelessness has failed. Research shows that homelessness has increased every year at an alarming rate under Boris Johnson’s mayoralty. In 2013/14, 3,473 more people slept rough than in the year before he was elected in 2008.

The fact that Boris commissioned a project aimed at stopping people spending more than one night on the streets shows that he is aware that there is an issue, but the ever-increasing figures show that, once again, his pledge has failed, with the figure growing since the project was first formed in 2008.

A failing Mayoralty is compounded by the government’s change to welfare reform, which has also led to an increase in rough sleeping and homelessness in London. In particular the increase in private sector rents and reduced Local Housing Allowance entitlement has made it difficult for some renters to meet private sector rents in London. Furthermore, private landlords are even more reluctant to accept those claiming Local Housing Allowance. The Department for Work and Pensions carried out research in June 2012, which showed that one-third of landlords currently letting to Local Housing Allowance claimants have either decided to no longer let to benefit claimants or are seriously considering no longer letting to them because of the reforms ("Private landlords turning backs on benefits tenants", Inside Housing, 15 June 2012). This all leads to an increased demand on the third sector to bridge the gap left by a faltering and significantly-reduced public sector. It’s really sad to see rough sleeping and homelessness charities that have been badly affected by government cuts.

I challenged Boris at Mayor’s Question Time this week about this, asking him why, for instance, TfL have cut all their outreach workers that work with homeless people on night buses and I’m pleased that he has agreed to look into this.

The young 17-year-old girl who came to me was using TfL buses as a place to sleep at night, and while she now has a place to call home, without wider political will and public funding to address the root causes of homelessness, we are left firefighting against an impossible force.

Christmas is next month and I dread to think about the number of Londoners that will be sleeping rough because they have nowhere to turn. One homeless young person is one too many. 90,000 is a national scandal. The Mayor and his millionaire colleagues who rule Westminster should be ashamed.                                                                           

Jennette Arnold OBE is the Labour London Assembly Member for Northeast London

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.