The Halifax MP recently took part in a sponsored sleepout at the Shay Stadium to raise money and awareness of rough sleeping and highlight the need to halt the roll-out of Universal Credit
I’m trying to get to sleep at 1.20am, freezing, lying on a cold, hard concrete floor. I’m at the Shay Stadium in Halifax, one of around a hundred people taking part in Calderdale Smartmove’s Big Sleepout to raise money and awareness of homelessness and rough sleeping.
Even wearing all the layers I can, in a sleeping bag with a pillow and a base layer on the floor, I’m still freezing and uncomfortable, and will get very little if any sleep tonight. It’s appalling that for many this is the reality of a life spent outdoors night after night
Government support has been consistently cut back since 2010. The situation would be even worse were it not for the amazing work of charitable organisations such as Calderdale Smartmove. Its tireless work to help homeless and vulnerably housed people across the region offers a lifeline to those most in need.
The chief executive this evening spoke of how £7,000 had been raised so far by this event. One aspect of Smartmove’s support for those in need is to offer bonds on rented properties, to facilitate people moving into rented accommodation. So the impact of this fundraiser could be 20 additional people being able to access this.
However, he also spoke of those still on the waiting list, who despite the best efforts of its staff, can be offered little more than a sleeping bag. I’m deeply concerned that the number of people in this position is going to increase as a result of government policies. Having met with landlords and homelessness charities in recent weeks, they have raised their grave concerns with me about the impact of Universal Credit, which was introduced in Halifax this summer.
Due to the minimum six week wait deliberately built into the system as people transition onto the benefit, private landlords and social housing providers alike are pushed to the limits in having to cover that cost, and many simply won’t take the risk.
We are already seeing evictions, and a refusal on the part of private landlords to accept any new tenants who are on, or moving to, Universal Credit. More and more constituents are coming to my office in a dire financial position as they start their claim. As the roll-out continues across the country these problems are only going to become more widespread.
It’s now nearly 2am and it’s 5 degrees in mid-November. Even having come prepared, the cold is in my bones, stopping me from sleeping.
The coldest months are yet to come and if we do not find a way of forcing the government to halt the roll-out of Universal Credit, and fix the problems it is creating, then we will see a completely avoidable explosion in the numbers of rough sleepers. I’ll continue to make the case for this in Westminster.
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