Will a voluntary tax help the homeless?
By Joe Harker
Homelessness in England is the highest it has ever been, with the amount of people sleeping on the streets having more than doubled since 2010. Around a quarter of all rough sleepers are in London and about a fifth are non UK nationals.
National charity Crisis warns that the problem could be even larger than statistics show, as there are thousands more who sleep in tents and cars with no permanent home. Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, believes more should be done to help the homeless. He said: "It is truly a catastrophe that in a country as prosperous as this, more and more people are finding themselves forced to sleep in dangerous and freezing conditions, when we have evidence to show how the situation could be turned around.
"Today's report makes it only too clear that unless we take action as a society, the problem is only going to keep getting worse with every year that passes. Rough sleeping ruins lives, leaving people vulnerable to violence and abuse, and taking a dreadful toll on mental and physical health."
Westminster Council has come up with a plan to help in its area, as it intends to write to residents living in the wealthiest areas and ask them to pay a voluntary tax that will help the homeless.
Council tax rates in Westminster are some of the lowest in the country but the richest residents will be asked to contribute an additional £833 according to The Guardian.
Nickie Aiken, Westminster Council leader, said the scheme would go ahead after a positive consultation with wealthy residents showed support for the idea. She said: "The outcome of our consultation reflects the kind and generous spirit of Westminster residents.
"It also confirmed what I had heard from people I had met on the doorstep that those in the more expensive homes are willing to contribute more to community projects. The scheme is most popular among residents of the most expensive homes."
Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is a huge fan of the idea and congratulated Westminster Council on their "fantabulous" plan. This is not the first time Sentamu has praised the idea of allowing people to pay more tax if they want to.
Not everyone is a fan of the idea. Writing in The Times, Nicholas Hellen and Tim Shipman call the scheme a "guilt tax" and suggests the council is begging richer residents for money. However, many of the residents seem to be pleased with the idea and appreciate that they are being asked to pay more rather than being forced.