Having a home – a fundamental right

On my way for a coffee in Wareham last week, I passed a young man wrapped up in a sleeping bag, asleep on the pavement.
Shoppers walked past, some averting their eyes, others – as far as I could see – simply not noticing him at all. I felt guilty and troubled, pausing to drop a couple of pound coins upon the top of his sleeping bag.
In ‘Not Just Sundaes’, Wareham’s Community Café, the staff knew the young man I had seen. Tom – not his real name – was a regular, making use of the café’s warm space. He’d been sleeping in the churchyard of Lady St Mary’s during the recent freezing weather.
I have often spoken to Big Issue vendors, but seeing Tom – and seeing how many passers-by seemed to be unaware of his existence – prompted me to find out more about homelessness in Dorset.
The national charity, Shelter, believes that having a home is a fundamental right.
Yet Shelter this January reported that at least 271,000 people were recorded as being homeless in England, including 123,000 children. The charity’s analysis of official figures and responses to Freedom of Information requests reveals that one in 208 people in England were without a home. Of these, 2,400 people were sleeping rough any given night.
In Dorset, Shelter estimated, 718 people were homeless on any given night in 2022, including 294 children – equivalent to one in 529 people living in the area. About 698 people in Dorset were living in temporary accommodation, while 13 were estimated to be sleeping rough.
Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate, is expecting a rise in homelessness this year. Jeremy Hunt’s Budget, she said, provided no relief for parents fearing the loss of the roofs over their children’s heads.
Polly’s press statement reads: “The Chancellor could have put an end to spiralling homelessness, but instead he’s stuck his head in the sand. Homelessness has almost doubled in the last 10 years, and yet again we have a Budget that does nothing to help struggling renters who are drowning in debt and rapidly rising rents.”
In Dorset, we see London prices – buying a house is beyond the means of many first-time buyers. In 2017, the average price of a house in Purbeck was 14 times the average salary. Rents, too, are high – The Guardian in November 2021 reported that Purbeck had seen the highest rental growth in the UK.
Yet wages compared to national averages are low. Dorset Council reports a weekly wage of £546
compared to a national one of £613.
I had seen Tom sleeping rough – yet I thought of the Dorset families desperate for a home, unable to buy one, and falling behind with the rent. The Dorset Council waiting list for Swanage in 2020 showed over 150 families waiting for an affordable home to rent.
There is no record in Hansard of our MP, Richard Drax, making any speech addressing the issue of homelessness since he won the seat in 2010.
Chair, Swanage & Rural Purbeck Labour Party

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