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

Photo: Getty
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Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from surplus into deficit. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.