Grant Shapps MP is the Shadow Housing Minister and helped set up he Conservative Homelessness Foundation, which carries out research into the causes and effects of homelessness with a view to proposing policy solutions. Next week the Foundation will publish its 10th report, 'Sobering Facts', which tracks the link between homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse.
Many of us will spend Christmas Eve chasing around shopping centres for those last minute gifts before going home and frantically wrapping presents for loved ones. It seems like stressful stuff, but while you're putting out a mince pie for Santa tonight spare a thought for the nearly 83,000 children who will go to sleep this Christmas without somewhere to call home.
Today I've published a new report, All I Want For Christmas Is A Place to Call Home, which draws attention to the estimated 20% increase in the number of children without a permanent home since 1998. This Labour Government has to confront the fact that under its leadership there has been an enormous increase in the number of children placed in vulnerable uncertainty – a revelation that should weigh heavily on its conscience, particularly as those within it are no doubt currently filling stockings and arranging presents around the tree.
The news that 82,780 children in England will wake up on Christmas Day in temporary accommodation this year and that 6,500 of the families lucky enough to exit temporary accommodation in the last year have been without a permanent home for more than three years, is something that must not be ignored or sidelined. It is an issue at the heart of our communities and one that many people have first hand evidence of as they go about their daily lives.
Of course, the issue of homelessness goes right to the core of our society – it is not just the uncertainty that comes with lacking a roof over their heads that these children have to deal with, but they are also confronted with a plethora of other factors that make their start in life far more difficult than it should ever be; for example, children in temporary housing are almost twice as likely to suffer from poor health as other children and a third of children living in temporary accommodation have no school to go to. No home, no education and poor health is not the start any child should have.
An interest in tackling homelessness was one of the factors that originally drove me into politics. It's a complex problem with many underlying causes and as a result there are a large number of things which need to change in order to effectively tackle the problem.
Last Christmas we published a Conservative Blueprint to Tackle Homelessness which outlined the cross-governmental approach required. I'm pleased to say that across shadow teams we're acting on that Blueprint. For instance, in October, in conjunction with Andrew Selous and Theresa May, we announced reforms to the Housing Benefit system which will give recipients of Local Housing Allowance the opportunity to have their benefit paid directly to their landlord. The inflexibility of the current system has led to chaos for both those on the brink of homelessness and landlords.
As in so many areas things, when it comes to tackling homelessness transparency is key. This Government has failed to introduce an accurate method for counting the number of people rough sleeping and therefore concludes that there will be just 464 people sleeping rough in the country tonight. This is clearly nonsense. So in the lead up to Christmas I visited the headquarters of homeless charity Crisis and pledged that a future Conservative government would establish a more honest approach to counting rough sleepers. Understanding the extent of the problem must be the first step to solving it.
Earlier this month David Cameron asked the Shadow Cabinet to visit homeless organisations and hostels before Christmas. My colleagues responded enthusiastically and it's good to know that a greater understanding of homelessness is at the heart of the modern Conservative approach.
It's now eighteen months since David Cameron and I launched the Conservative Homelessness Foundation and we're delighted to have the key homelessness organisations advising us on our research. In all of this work, the modern Conservative Party is simply following in the footsteps of former Conservative Chancellor Iain Macleod who personally helped set up the homeless charity Crisis in 1967. Today, I know that our party's long established concern for those most in need thrives as we continue to battle poverty in all its forms.