Over the past weeks we have heard about the tragic death of a young man, aged 22, whose body was found in the river on 13th August. He was living on his own in a “Hotel” which is in fact a building full of bed-sit accommodation.
I do not yet know how and why he died. I do know that he was not getting all the support he could have had. I don’t believe the place he was living in helped him to cope with life, and my team tried to help his mother change that. I understand that the Borough Council, which is responsible for housing, had found him temporary accommodation, but needed the County Council, responsible for social support, to enable him to move to a permanent supported living environment. The County had assured the Borough that he had a place and was being moved. This clearly did not happen.
I intend to speak to the Borough and County councils to see if better ways can be found to help vulnerable people in this position in future. And for my part I will try to put more emphasis on checking that those who have come to us for help have actually been given the support that was promised.
I wrote my column in October last year about Supported Housing, and again in February this year. The points I made then are just as true now, if not more so – we need more housing of all sorts, we need more supported housing, we need better mental health care, we need more social care support. “Saving” money by cutting these things is not a saving at all – it costs us money through increased demand for hospitals and prisons, and it costs lives.
I want to give credit where it is due. Ipswich Borough Council’s new homeless families’ unit in Stoke Park has significantly more – and better – accommodation – than the original West Villa beside the hospital. And the Borough Council is not resting on its laurels – the new additional accommodation it is planning in Sidegate Lane will enable more families and young people in difficulties to avoid having to live in unsuitable “hotel” accommodation.
And of course, as well as supported housing for those who need extra help, almost all young people and families need more genuinely affordable homes, so I am delighted that the Borough is continuing to build council homes wherever and whenever it can, including at the former Tooks site and just round the corner from me in Cauldwell Hall Road.
But the Government is not making it easy for councils to build the houses we need. I contributed to the recent Parliamentary Campaign for Council Housing’s response to Labour’s ‘Housing for the Many’ Green Paper. The Council ought to be allowed to borrow the money it needs to build the homes that people are crying out for, and there need to be more generous government grants to help. We don’t think so much public money should be spent on supporting rents in the private sector, and the way to achieve that is to offer more people Council Homes. Subsidies for buying houses don’t contribute to building new houses, they just push up the prices of existing houses.
We want to make it easier for Councils to compulsorily purchase houses that have stood empty for years, and bring them back into use. We are calling for an end to Council Homes being forcibly sold off at less than they cost to build. We want to make sure that if any Council Homes are sold to their tenants, that the finance is there to replace them one-for-one with new Council Homes. And we want to stop Council Homes ending up in the hands of buy-to-let landlords who charge significantly more for a worse service.
Ipswich Borough Council is already building high quality Council Homes that people need, but alongside a government that truly supported that drive we could achieve so much more. In the meantime, there are people who need particular help with housing, and most Ipswich residents want to do more to help the homeless. Charities in Ipswich do a great deal to try to help, and none more so than Ipswich Housing Action Group (IHAG).
That is why I am running in the Great East Run in Ipswich on Sunday 16th September in support of IHAG, and am asking you, if you want to help the homeless in our town, to pledge your support by accessing my Local Giving page at https://localgiving.org/fundraising/sandysrunforhomeless