Action needed on homelessness - Peterborough MP Fiona Onasanya

Fiona Onasanya
Fiona Onasanya
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Note from the Editor: We have been asked why the PT is publishing Fiona Onasanya’s columns following her conviction at the Old Bailey.

The PT offers columns to the two sitting MPs covering Peterborough if they choose to submit one. While she is still the MP - and therefore the elected representative - we believe it would be wrong to deny our readers the chance to read what she has submitted.

To censor the column would, in my view, be wrong, and in my experience our readers are quite capable of making their own minds up about the columns submitted by local politicians. The column will of course remain subject to our normal legal and Editor’s Code of Conduct boundaries.

Editor - Mark Edwards

Over the festive period, I’ve been thinking about the levels of homelessness we have in our city and across the country. In the sixth richest country in the world, it is simply unacceptable that approximately 130,000 children have spent Christmas in temporary accommodation this year.

According to the charity Shelter, this is a 59% rise in five years.

In England, the number of children in temporary accommodation is the highest it has been for 11 years. The latest Shelter report suggests that Peterborough has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the East of England – a staggering 1,153 people.

There are a huge amount of factors that can result in homelessness – relationship breakdowns, job losses, mental health issues – but one thing that is also exacerbating the situation is the housing crisis we are facing. In my mind, the growing level of homelessness is a damning indictment of the lack of building affordable, accessible social housing under the current government.

They need to take their heads out of the sand and realise that there is an evident crisis of supply and affordability, otherwise, the real-life consequences of their policies will continue to hurt those on the streets and in temporary accommodation.

Additionally, I have no doubt that the punitive welfare policies that this government is imposing are pushing more and more people into the dangerous trap of homelessness. Much has been said about the Universal Credit roll-out and punitive PIP policies, and the contact I’ve had from constituents confirms that it’s having a direct impact on the financial situation of many who have little security in the first place.

This is without mentioning the drastic real-terms funding cuts to mental health services across the country. NHS beds available have been reduced and patients are having to travel across the country for vital inpatient care. It is my belief that all of these cuts and ‘reforms’ are having an accumulative impact on homelessness.

Perhaps if we built more homes with an emphasis on safeguarding a portion of them for those who are sleeping rough, while pursuing a compassionate welfare system that provides a basic level of security for those who need it – we might get some way to addressing what is truly a national scandal. It’s deeply disappointing to see so many people sleeping rough in our city, and at the moment, they are being failed by “the system” with no clear plan on how to help them.

As a society, we should be judged on how we look after our most vulnerable – the hands up we offer, and the support we provide.

The generosity of the public always shines through at this time of year, but the government is simply failing to follow your example.

My hope is that in 2019 this can be rectified and that they realise a new strategy to include mental health provision and deal with addiction is needed to tackle homelessness in Britain.