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29 September 2008

Tackling homelessness

'It is vital that this conference demonstrates our commitment to change; that we set out our plan fo

By Grant Shapps

It’s fantastic to be back in our second city for our Conference this year; it’s a vibrant place with great potential and there was a real buzz around the conference centre from the beginning.

I’ve already been in Birmingham this year looking at regeneration and homelessness projects and it’s clear how important it is that we demonstrate real vision in housing policy and offer true change for the future.

The first, and obvious, thing to address when discussing ways to improve housing policy is supply and demand. Our policy of giving power back to communities and local democracy and incentivising people to welcome homes into their area is fundamental to fulfilling housing need.

At the extreme end of that housing need is homelessness and rough sleeping. Seeing the effects of homelessness, overcrowding and unsuitable housing on families has been a harrowing part of my role as Shadow Housing Minister and I was incredibly proud to set up the Conservative Homelessness Foundation with David Cameron earlier this year.

The Foundation, which brings together major homeless organisations from across the country to develop policies on homelessness, demonstrates the Conservative Party’s commitment to tackling the complex and complicated issues in this area. Yesterday, Crisis – an important part of the Homelessness Foundation – held an event at our conference asking whether Homelessness was a Conservative issue.

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The answer could not have been more emphatic. I was joined on stage by Chris Bullivant, from the Centre for Social Justice which has been doing so much great work in this area and he spoke with incredible passion of his personal experiences in the field. There was no standing room and nobody could have had any doubt how serious we are about tackling homelessness.

I had to race from the Crisis event to take part in the special economic session dealing with many of the issues facing communities around the country. It’s important to hear people’s experiences at first hand, listening is the key to moving policy forward and although it was good to set out more detail of housing policy in my speech this morning, the value of a dialogue on stage cannot be over-estimated.

It is vital that this conference demonstrates our commitment to change; that we set out our plan for that change and that we offer real solutions to the very real problems affecting so many.

Grant Shapps is MP for Welwyn Hatfield and shadow housing minister