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Doorstep lessons

July 01 2019
Melanie Onn MP in her constituency, Grimsby © Katie Burgess Melanie Onn MP in her constituency, Grimsby © Katie Burgess
Melanie Onn, Labour MP for Great Grimsby discusses being homeless with Sarah Hough

In a nutshell

  • Melanie Onn was elected MP for Grimsby in May 2015
  • Aged 17 she was given support by Doorstep, a charity in Grimsby helping young homeless people. Facebook: @GrimsbyDoorstep
  • She’s got a degree in politics, a background in trade unionism and backs renewable energy.

Melanie Onn, Labour MP for Great Grimsby discusses being homeless with Sarah Hough

Melanie Onn MP, who is 39, recently stepped down as the Shadow Minister for Housing. During her time in the role she advocated for homeless people because she experienced homelessness when she was a teenager.

“When I became an MP, I wanted to speak up for people, particularly young people, who are facing homelessness and encourage the Government to make sure there is enough support. I think people end up quite early on in a cycle of insecure housing and never really getting a level footing, so then they are much more at risk of this just repeating itself through their lives. So having gone through that, and lived that experience when I was 17, and having no idea about any of the benefit systems, no idea that there was even a charity out there that could specifically help me, it probably has given me a little bit more insight into how things can go wrong even in ordinary circumstances,” says Melanie. It’s clear she knows about the stigma surrounding homelessness and how she challenges negative perceptions as they are presented in the media and at times in Parliament.

“Before I resigned, I was asked about some MPs who'd made a complaint about people sleeping rough in the subway under Parliament.  They were asked to move along, and the police had said we're going to use this really ancient piece of legislation, the Vagrancy Act. I said on the radio, parliamentarians shouldn't be saying ‘they didn't want to see it as they walked into work’ because that isn't the kind of attitude I'd expect of any parliamentarian,” she says.

Melanie cites the global economic crash of 2008 as the catalyst for rising homelessness, austerity and reduced spending by the Government. This resulted in the termination of Supporting People funding, the loss of many youth services, the introduction of other punitive policies like the bedroom tax and zero hour contracts which have drawn people into rent arrears and poverty. The controversial roll out of Universal Credit has resulted in long delays in rent and benefit payments for many people and their families. While others have become homeless for being unable to pay their rent after failing to budget a large sum. Homelessness has increased for people from all walks of life, many who are working, but still can’t afford the high rents of the unregulated private rented sector, especially in cities like London. This is compounded by the severe shortage of social housing and affordable housing.

“There have been lots of policy decisions in the last 10 years that have made it more likely for people to fall out of the housing system. In London particularly, and some of the other big cities, once you’re out of it, getting back in is just so hard,” she says.

Melanie regards the Homeless Reduction Act positively. But she also recognises its limitations and the increased responsibilities Local Authorities have to complete the preventative work, but without the funding to match.

“I feel like it's the Government delegating its responsibilities and I would have much rather seen a national ministerial led task force to deal with homelessness, rather than just saying to Local Authorities, ‘you just deal with it’.”

Melanie predicts an increasing reliance on charities to try to fill some of the gaps: “Charities need to make inroads in the political arena. I think it's really important. Groundswell is a grassroots organisation which is rooted in the community. It's doing really excellent work and it's providing a forum for people to air their concerns and to get right to the heart of where changes can be made, whether that's in Local Authorities with counsellors or whether it's in Parliament with MPs.”