As we enter the festive season we are reminded of the story of the nativity where the baby Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem because there was no other accommodation available in the town. As Fran Boait, our excellent parliamentary candidate, pointed out this week as the temperature plunged below zero 14 people sought emergency accommodation at the City Mission night shelter. We are extremely grateful for all the good work they do supporting the homeless.
Yet it shouldn’t be like this. Housing and shelter are a basic human right. It is a disgrace that in our City in a country that has the sixth largest economy in the world this right is denied to thousands of our fellow citizens. Recent figures show that in Gloucester there are nearly 4,000 people languishing on council waiting lists of which 174 are determined as being homeless and 1,583 are regarded as being in significant need or are being investigated as homeless. There are 170 households living in temporary accommodation with more than 60 of those being families with young children. The Council regularly houses homeless households outside of the City as far away as Bristol and often in expensive private B & Bs or Travel Lodge hotels because in our City there isn’t enough room at the Inn.
This cannot be allowed to continue. Last year the Labour Group proposed investing £5 million to purchase properties in the private sector which would immediately provide around 50 units of supported accommodation for temporary housing for the homeless. We also proposed investing £20 million to work with registered social housing providers to build more homes directly for rent. This would have led to 200 – 250 new homes. We also proposed that the Council establish a Housing Development Company (as has been done in many parts of the country) to drive forward new homes building for direct rent at genuinely affordable rental levels. Unfortunately, these proposals were rejected out-of-the hand by the Conservative run Council.
It is often rightly said that politics is the exercise of choices as to how we spend our money and what our priorities are. I can’t help but conclude that currently Conservative administrations are making the wrong choices and thousands are suffering because of this.
During the Christmas period our thoughts will be with our families and loved ones and I’m sure many will also be thinking of those less fortunate than themselves forced to live on the streets, struggling in poverty, facing ill health including those with mental health problems, the elderly facing loneliness. Let us hope that as we enter the New Year those with the power to bring about change do so.
This is my last blog before the festivities so I'll finish on behalf of the Labour Group by wishing you all a merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy and peaceful New Year.
Terry Pullen is the Leader of the Labour Group of Councillors at Gloucester City Council.
This is part of a series of regular blogs which focus on events at the Council.