Putting rough sleeping to bed

Agreement between Livingstone, Johnson and Paddick on rough sleeping, but do the mayoral candidates

Something quite extraordinary happened last night. At the mayoral debate on housing and homelessness, the three main parties’ candidates for London Mayor all signed up to an ambitious target to end rough sleeping in the capital by the end of the mayoral term in 2012.

They were speaking at a mayoral debate on housing and homelessness held jointly by Crisis, the National Housing Federation, Shelter and St Mungo’s and responding to a plea from audience member and former rough sleeper Jamie McCoy.

In an evening of some disagreement elsewhere on housing issues, the three candidates were in unison on the 2012 target. It is not the first time that we have seen targets on rough sleeping. Ten years ago the New Labour Government announced that it aimed to reduce the numbers of rough sleepers across the country by two thirds and then get as close to zero as possible.

The government met the first part of the target - reducing the numbers of people sleeping rough by two thirds. But progress then flatlined and since 2003 there has been little further reduction. The latest official figures from one night counts indicate that there are around 500 people sleeping rough on any one night in England and around half are in London, but we also know that over the whole year, 3,000 people sleep rough in the capital.

I am encouraged that the candidates last night publically committed themselves to putting rough sleeping to bed for good in the capital, especially because housing and homelessness is one area where the approach that the mayor takes can make a huge difference. The target cannot be reached in isolation in London. That’s why we need central government also to admit that the current approach is not working any more and, like the mayoral candidates, to set ambitious targets once again.

Of course targets are only useful if followed by action. Rough sleeping, like all forms of homelessness, is a complex problem needing a sophisticated approach. The story of Jamie, who challenged the candidates last night, illustrates this. After years of rough sleeping Jamie needed more than just a roof – he needed help with drug addiction and support to get back into learning so that he could build a stable life.

We also need to remember that helping rough sleepers off the streets is the first step in ending homelessness - not the end of the journey. There are around 400,000 hidden homeless people in the UK, living in living in hostels, temporary bed and breakfast accommodation, squats or sleeping on the floors of friends and family.

Building more social rented accommodation – crucially with the support for those who need it - is key to tackling homelessness and other housing need and this was an area last night where some differences in approach emerged. Ken Livingstone made clear his housing priority lay in tackling the chronic shortfall in social rented housing, Brian Paddick in more affordable rented accommodation for all, and Boris Johnson talked more about his plans to help “people in the middle” get on the housing ladder. I felt that none of the candidates convincingly showed that they understood the extent to which providing housing is only a small part of the solution to homelessness.

In our latest campaign, Crisis has called on the Government – and in London the mayor - to put rough sleeping to bed for good and we have outlined the kind of measures that are needed to achieve this. For the sake of all those Jamies who are still on the streets, I hope that this year’s mayoral election is just the beginning of extraordinary change for today’s rough sleepers.

Leslie Morphy is chief executive of Crisis

To find out who you should be voting for on May 1st visit our Fantasy Mayor site.

Leslie Morphy is the outgoing Chief Executive of Crisis, the national charity for single homelessness people.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times