Jeremy Corbyn on Finsbury Park homelessness, Holloway Prison housing and Theresa May's next walking holiday
PUBLISHED: 11:45 12 January 2018 | UPDATED: 11:48 12 January 2018
Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn has demanded a housing policy that deals with rough sleeping in Finsbury Park and under the Stroud Green Road bridge.
The town hall has identified 23 rough sleepers across Islington. But on some nights, Mr Corbyn said there can be a similar number in the park – which is just outside the Islington boundary – alone.
Mr Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, was speaking to the Gazette last night at Finsbury Park Mosque’s weekly “meal for all” project. Every Thursday, the St Thomas’s Road mosque is a place for the homeless to eat, relax and receive support – if they wish to.
Veteran Arsenal-supporting MP Mr Corbyn immediately started chatting about football with one client: a Manchester United fan. But he was more serious after hearing the tales of people on the streets, or in insecure accommodation.
“My friend here was in the forces,” Mr Corbyn said. “He had a bit of bad luck in life. He ended up in an insecure flat, worried about the future. He wants to get back to work and has a lot to contribute. What he needs is some stability in his life and somewhere to live. My other friend here, if he doesn’t mind me saying, has a heart condition and needs help and support.
“They are telling me about the churches in the area doing a lot to help people, which is good, and provide that sense of community. But it shouldn’t be that we have to rely completely on charities for all this. There ought to be wider provision of housing.
“So what I learn from coming here is what great people we’ve got. What great support we’ve got from volunteers in the churches, the mosques, the synagogues. But what we need is a policy approach that deals with it.”
The MP, who lives off Seven Sisters Road, suggested homelessness in Finsbury Park is the worst he’s ever seen.
“There weren’t always people sleeping rough around Finsbury Park. I’ve lived in or around here since 1970. There have been periods where hardly anyone has been sleeping rough, or begging. Now there is a very large number.
“I go running in Finsbury Park and I see the number of people sleeping there. It’s not great, but they have nowhere to go. Likewise under the bridge on Stroud Green Road. They are there because people pass by and it’s relatively dry. But what a horrible place to sleep.” Twenty-two people have been helped into accommodation by Islington Council since November.
From rough sleeping to overcrowding, Mr Corbyn, 68, said housing will again be his key casework issue in 2018. As a result, he has called for 100 per cent social housing on the former Holloway Prison site – but knows current government policy won’t allow that. Islington Council has demanded at least 50 per cent “genuinely affordable”.
“The HMP Holloway site is a huge opportunity. But at the very best, under the current thinking, we would get a proportion of social housing.
“If, as a country, we are serious about dealing with the housing crisis, we have to say that some of the major sites have got to be completely for social housing. We can’t just go on reducing the proportion of social housing in central London and not expect to pay a social price – but also an economic price.”
Mr Corbyn might get his way if another general election is called this year.
“I don’t know what the Prime Minister is thinking,” he laughed, “or indeed if she is planning any trips to Wales to go walking [where she famously decided to call last year’s election]. But the Conservative Party is clearly not a very happy ship. If Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions was anything to go by, the sort of solemn acquiescence around her was a bit of a contrast to the good spirit in the Labour Party.
“If there is an election, we’ll fight it as hard as we can and go to even more places than I did last year. It was only 100 last time.”