Councillors, students and community leaders in Oxford have come out in strong opposition to a proposed 1.5 million pound cut in the homelessness budget, with a protest being held outside the county council hall on Tuesday afternoon.
Leading figures, including the Bishop of Oxford Reverend John Pritchard, Oxford East MP Andrew Smith and Oxford Brookes Pro Vice Chancellor Professor John Raftery have signed an open letter to Oxfordshire County Councillors urging them to reconsider these plans, which they say will have a “devastating effect on Oxfords most vulnerable.”
While last estimates suggest that 19 people were sleeping rough, Labour councillor for Carfax ward Anne Marie Canning said that “these cuts will mean that one of our hostels has to close, and that will leave an extra 60 people out sleeping on the streets.”
Deputy Lord Mayor Tony Brett went further saying “if these services are cut, many people’s lives will be destroyed… people will die. This is really no way to thank the volunteers who have dedicated their lives to helping these people get their lives back in order and get into supported accommodation. So I really hope the county council makes the right decision today and doesn’t do this vicious cut.”
Leslie Dewhurst pointed out that cuts to the homeless are unlikely to save any money, as putting more homeless on the street will lead to a corresponding increase in healthcare costs and crime.
Members of the student community also voiced their opposition to the cuts. Tom Rutland, President of the Oxford University Student Union, said, “our student union backed this protest unanimously, with all colleges voting support; these cuts are just terrible, they’re dire.”
Emily Silcock, Community Outreach and Charities Officer for OUSU, gave the following statement, “although I am disappointed at the outcome, I hope that the protest will prevent the County Council from considering any further cuts in future years. It was clear from attendance at the protest, and signatories of the petition, that students care about the homeless; Dan Tomlinson (OUSU VP) and I plan to build on this support by forming a campaigning group on issues surrounding homelessness.”
The homelessness budget has already been cut by 20% since 2011-2012. The cuts come as part of an initiative by the county council to save 64 million from their budget.