Since October there has been a rise in homeless people calling in to my Fleetwood office wanting help to find a roof over their heads. Some of them are rough sleepers, some are sofa surfers. The majority do not have identification paperwork required by the Government agencies to provide them with accommodation. Homeless people rarely have passports, birth certificates, utility bills, their National Insurance number, driving licence or a mobile phone. Many of those needing help literally have to camp out in my office waiting for agencies to call us back when we then pass our telephone over to them. In Fleetwood there are no council offices to provide support. The nearest centre is Poulton – an impossible journey for someone without money and local knowledge. Without the required paperwork, those without a home also have great difficulty in accessing Universal Credit and benefits. To access Universal Credit you have to be able to do so online via a computer – another barrier for the homeless.
This week the Resolution Foundation revealed its findings into the impact of the introduction of Universal Credit. The organisation is an independent think-tank focused on improving the living standards of those on low to middle incomes. Their report documents how the Conservatives’ key social security policy, Universal Credit, is failing so many because of ‘major flaws in its design and implementation.’ Rolling six benefits into one whilst imposing severe cuts and moving to a ‘digital by default’ system was simply reckless. It is completely wrong to leave people on low incomes, often without savings, waiting five weeks for payment.
Many of the people who approach me needing help with Universal Credit are in work but earning a salary that no-one could possibly live on, given ever increasing rises in rent, utilities, food and transport. The Children’s Society has revealed that 70% of children living in poverty are in households where someone is in work.
On Monday in the House of Commons the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell raised these issues saying that if we are to lay any claim to being a compassionate or even a civilised society, an effective test is how we care for our children. On this count this government fails appallingly.
No government should ignore organisations like the Children’s Society and Child Poverty Action Group, who have reported that there remain over 4 million children living in poverty.
That’s one child in three living in poverty.
125,000 of these children are homeless, living in temporary accommodation.
These children are more likely to have poor physical health, experience mental health problems, have a low sense of wellbeing, underachieve at school and experience stigma and bullying.
This week I spoke to a Primary School headteacher in the constituency. He revealed the numbers of children requiring mental health support has risen dramatically and yet he just can’t access the help both he and the children need.
The Government has stated its intention to support children with mental health challenges and special educational needs. In my constituency the local authority educational psychologists are so stretched that schools cannot get an appointment for a child except in the severest circumstances such as self-harm or the risk of physically harming others. Schools are seeking private psychologist appointments and finding the costs from their already limited budgets – and even so, they are still having to wait over 6 months for an appointment. There are long waiting lists to see a mental health specialist. These delays are causing unnecessary severe stress for children and families, and making situations worse where faster support would be more effective and ultimately less expensive.
The people who live in northern towns like Fleetwood, have been and are being, let down by this Conservative Government with the most vulnerable – those least likely to have a voice- suffering the most. I commit to spending the next five years doing all I can to minimise the damage.