Cllr Sam Stopp’s speech to Labour Party Conference, 6pm, 26th September 2017 at the Brighthelm Centre, Brighton.
Thank you, Chris. In all honesty, I owe Chris a number of thank yous. But I don’t want his ego getting too big, so I’ll only give him two.
Thank you, Chris, for not doing to me what the GMB did to me last year when they sponsored The Labour Campaign to End Homelessness event in Liverpool.
The GMB, being the GMB, placed onto every table several pitchers of ale, and several, for some reason, in front of me. Now, I must have been very nervous, because by the time it came for me to invite questions from the audience, I didn’t really know who was talking to who.
So, thank you, Chris, for not sabotaging me on my one big day out of the year.
And thank you, Chris, for pretty much singlehandedly organising this event. The speakers, the venue, the publicity. Although you’re far too modest to say so yourself, this event was your idea, and I can’t tell you how proud I am that tonight our campaign stands in solidarity with LGBT Labour and the Albert Kennedy Trust. So, thank you, Chris.
Who here has seen the film, Pride, the story of how a group of lesbians and gays rallied to the cause of the South Wales miners in the 1980s? Raise your hands, go on.
I love that film. I love it because it shows the Labour movement at its best. It shows that when we come together, against seemingly impossible odds, how mighty we become.
It shows that what matters to our movement is not who you are or where you come from, but who you are fighting for.
It shows that whatever your gender or sexuality, whatever your story, whatever your hardship or your pain, we have more in common, and there is more that unites us than that which divides us.
That, friends, is the pride of the Labour movement. That is what has brought every one of us here to this room tonight.
And that is why we come together this evening to discuss the most grotesque, the most shameless, the most despicable betrayal of the British people in recent decades – the homelessness crisis.
It is a crisis caused not by circumstance, but by political decisions. Rough sleeping, only a fraction of the crisis, is 134% higher today than it was at the end of the last Labour government, just two years after the global financial crisis began.
It a crisis not only in our major cities, but in every town, village and hamlet in the land. The likelihood is that everyone in this room knows someone who is or has been homeless, and most of us are only ever two pay-packets away from joining their number.
It is a crisis that at present shames even this odious government into new legislation, launched with fanfare and the promise of throwing money after the problem, but which teeters on the brink of an unprecedented explosion as we head towards an inevitable economic downturn.
This crisis is the ugliest, most obvious, most barbarous symbol of Tory austerity there is and it shames our nation.
Consider the horror of that crisis, and then consider what it might be like to be a young person facing a personal crisis. Facing the prospect of marshalling the enormous strength and courage it will take to come to their parents, only to be rejected and cast out of the family home, perhaps onto the streets. Perhaps never to see their parents again.
Imagine being that young person, now without a home. Unable to find secure work because you don’t even have an address.
Unable to know whether the friend who has put you up for the night is really a friend, or merely an opportunist.
Unable to plan for where you might be in the days, weeks and months ahead. Unable to live your life. Trapped. Forgotten. Alone.
You see, friends, what this comes down to is simple. It’s about freedom. The Tories want you to believe that all you need to be free is to be free from things. Free from taxation. Free from Europe. Free from your fellow citizen.
Do you feel free? Do our thousands of homeless fellow citizens feel free?
What about freedom to? Freedom to have a home. Freedom to have a job. Freedom to love whoever you want to love.
You’ll forgive me for paraprashing a former Labour leader, the son of a South Wales miner, Neil Kinnock. When I talk to rough sleepers in London, they tell me things are getting worse by the week. It’s nearly winter. They’re citizens of a free country, but they don’t feel free.
I think of the families I represent in Wembley. They can barely make their pay cheques last the week. Their choice is between heating or eating. They’re citizens of a free country, but they don’t feel free.
I think of one young trans activist and another South Walean who I knew. Lost her life last year while the NHS buckled. She was a citizen of a free country, but she didn’t feel free.
Friends, we’ve spent the last few years saying what we’re against. Against austerity, against inequality, against injustice. Let us now say what we are for, and friends, we are for freedom.
What we want, in the words of another former Labour leader, Clement Attlee, is a society “free from poverty, free from fear, free from gross inequalities.” That’s the freedom from we want, but what about the freedom to?
Let me tell you about our campaign. Our campaign has two priorities – outreach and policy.
Let me tell you first about outreach. Over the past two years, our campaign has fed and clothed hundreds of rough sleepers in London and other cities around the country.
We have done so in order to put our Socialism into practice, but also to channel the immense goodwill of Labour Party members into facing this crisis head-on. Nevertheless, such action is a mere sticking plaster on a bullet wound.
We do this principally to make a point, and we are glad that the Labour Party are sitting up and taking notice.
Now let me tell you about policy. Our campaign makes five key policy suggestions. You can find them on our website – lceh.org.uk – they were written by a humble man from Belfast whose name is Ryan Maynes, and he deserves a round of applause.
The policies are these:
- A government-led national structure involving all of the major organisations, including statutory and community sector organisations, dedicated to ending homelessness.
- Create a more effective registration system and information database of rough sleepers and hidden homeless to begin the process of rehousing.
- Implement more efficient preventative measures and early intervention programmes to stop homelessness becoming entrenched and end the cycle.
- Enshrine the right to a home for everyone and begin the process of rehousing all of the UK’s homeless population, including those with complex needs.
- Launch a substantial and sustainable programme of public and social house building.
Let me conclude by saying two things. The first is to say again how honoured our campaign is to be standing alongside LGBT Labour and the Albert Kennedy Trust. One of my favourite lines from the film Pride is spoken by a miner called Dai, during his first ever visit to a gay nightclub.
He says: “What you’ve given us is friendship. When you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, well, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well, that’s the best feeling in the world. So, thank you.”
And the second and final thing is this. Our ambition is huge. The prospect of ending homelessness strikes some people as absurd. People will tell you it can’t be done. The Tories certainly will.
They said the same about the NHS. They told its founder, Aneurin Bevan, it would never be done. But on the eve of the 1945 general election, as the prospect of a period of austerity loomed that was to be far greater than the one we are living through today, Bevan told Labour conference:
“We have been the dreamers. We have been the sufferers. Now let us be the builders.”
And friends, it is in that spirit, that tonight I tell you of my belief that together we will end homelessness.