Thursday 1 December 2016

90 seconds with…Bob Blackman MP

Bob Blackman MP

EUK: Hi Bob; thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

BB: You’re welcome. I’ve been looking forward to it.

EUK: Homelessness is on the rise, why is that?

BB: It's difficult to get a real picture on homelessness levels as a lot of people end up sleeping on couches or relying on relatives for help and are not recorded, but we do know that the numbers of people 'rough sleeping' has definitely been rising. It's an issue with a very complex set of causes, but my bill focuses on the need for council services to stop turning people who do not come under their priority need category, away at the door and to start intervening at a much earlier stage to try and prevent the crisis situation from even occurring. We have already seen that front-ending resources towards prevention works well, with Wales reporting a 69% decrease in the number of households hitting the crisis stage after similar measures in the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 came into force last year.

EUK: What inspired you to introduce the Homelessness Reduction Bill?

BB: I decided to use my Private Member’s Bill to tackle the issue of homelessness for three reasons. First, by way of background, I served in local government for 24 years before becoming an MP and I have seen at first hand the devastation that can be caused by homelessness. There are too many ways for people to slide through the net under current arrangements. Second, I’m also on the Department for Communities and Local Government Select Committee and we had been doing an inquiry into homelessness at the time I was selected in the ballot. Third, there hasn’t been a substantial change in the law on homelessness in this country for 40 years so it’s definitely past time for reform!

EUK: The process of turning a Bill to law can be quite lengthy; what motivates you to keep pushing for change?

BB: Homelessness is not some niche issue only affecting a few people. It has an impact on everyone, from the people whose lives are ruined by the spiral it can produce, to their families and to society as a whole. At a time when employment is at its highest recorded level ever, it cannot be right that we are seeing more people than ever having to sleep rough on the streets, with all the risk that entails. This Bill is too important not to keep pushing for the changes it will bring about.

EUK: You’ve received plenty of support across Parliament...

BB: There has been a phenomenal amount of work done in the preparation stages. This Bill was closely vetted by charities, councils and related interest groups from the outset to make sure it would be completely workable. I also benefitted from the support of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee in putting it forward and doing pre-legislative scrutiny on the draft text, which is actually unprecedented. So when I came to Parliament to present the bill for its Second Reading, MPs were able to have confidence that it was a serious and well put together piece of work that would not have any unintended consequences. This preparation work is why the Government came out in support of the bill and why it passed Second Reading unopposed.

EUK: What one thing could every person do to help tackle homelessness and ensure homeless people have the right support?

BB: If my Bill passes, the most important thing that anyone can do if they know someone facing homelessness will be to encourage them to seek support as soon as possible. Councils will be able to intervene from up to 56 days prior to when homelessness is likely to happen and they will have a duty to work with people to help. This will be tailored support based on personal circumstances, not just a tick-box exercise, and everyone will be eligible to receive it.

EUK: The issue of homelessness has been highlighted more recently in ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’. Have you seen either, or do you plan on seeing them?

BB: This bill has taken over my time somewhat! I hope to see those movies soon though.

EUK: Have you visited an Emmaus community? If not, do you plan on visiting one soon?

BB: I visited homelessness charities, units and schemes around London and Manchester while preparing the bill. If the opportunity to visit an Emmaus community comes up I will gladly go. I regularly visit the Firm Foundation night shelter in Harrow which is a charity helping single homeless men.

EUK: Are you looking forward to the festive season? Do you and your family have any Christmas traditions?

BB: I enjoy visiting relatives and friends at Christmas. I also value the family coming together to share Christmas Day with food, fun and games. We will no doubt watch some TV and slumber! I also enjoy the Christmas football matches.

EUK: We see you’re a self-described ‘avid Spurs fan’ – Did you manage to catch any of the Homeless World Cup that took place this year in Glasgow?

BB: I am an avid Tottenham fan with a season ticket home and away! I only caught media and social media mentions of the Homeless World Cup.

EUK: Finally, social media has changed the way people interact with their local MP – how do feel about it?

BB: Social media has been transformative and for the most part it is a very positive thing. It can be more challenging, as people do expect instant responses a lot more. Overall though it's good to be able to innovate and find new ways of interacting with people.

EUK: Thanks Bob!