Students campaigning for seats on Oxford City Council are in a war of words this week over the recent 38 per cent cuts to homeless services in the city.
According to a statement from the Liberal Democrats, the Labour-run City Council recently voted down an amendment which would have provided an extra £100,000 for homelessness services.
Labour claims it is maintaining current spending levels on homelessness rather than cutting “in proportion to the government budget.”
Mark Mills, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Oxford, said: “Most of the shelters get most of their funding from the Conservative-controlled County Council, which has proposed the £1.5 million cut.”
“The loss of this funding will likely mean either one of the shelters will have to close or services at each shelter will be seriously damaged.”
Jean Vila, a Biology student at Wadham and Central Oxford Liberal Democrat campaigner, said: “Oxford’s Labour councillors have shown complete hypocrisy over the cuts to support for the homeless in Oxford. Twice in one week they’ve had the chance to help the homeless and twice they’ve failed to do so.”
“We need to hold the City Council to account when they fail to live up to their rhetoric and let down some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Aled Jones, a second-year Law student at Corpus Christi who will run for Labour against Vila in May’s council elections, said: “What the Lib Dems are saying is completely unfounded and purely an attempt to play politics with a serious issue.
“The City Council can’t send a message that it will pick up the slack when the County cuts vital services, as it also faces financial constraints imposed by this Tory/Lib Dem government.
“The Lib Dems should be directing their time and energy into opposing the Tories at the County Council, who are actually making the cuts, instead of attempts to smear Labour with baseless attacks regarding homelessness provision,” he added.
Labour councillor Ed Turner said: “The truth is the City Council grant has been reduced by 47 per cent yet we are going to maintain every penny going towards homeless services instead of cutting in proportion to the government budget. It’s the Conservative County Council that isn’t doing their bit.”
Vila and Jones will go head-to-head in the council elections on 22nd May. They are both standing for Holywell ward, which covers colleges such as Merton and Teddy Hall.
Jones, who is a former co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club, has said: “It’s only fair that local students have an active voice on the local council.
“Beyond the bubble of dreaming spires, Oxford has some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country which are being particularly badly hit by this government’s policies, which is why what the City Council does matters.”
Both parties have accused one another of using these cuts as an excuse for political gain. Tony Brett, another Liberal Democrat councillor, said: “It’s more important to help the homeless than to play politics. It’s a shame Labour can’t appreciate that.”
Ed Turner hit back, saying: “We tried our very best to have cross-party cooperation on this matter. It’s incredibly frustrating that the Lib Dems cannot help but use homelessness as a political football.”
The cuts to homelessness services have been widely condemned by figures such as OUSU President Tom Rutland and VP (Charities and Communities) Dan Tomlinson. The Oxford Student reported last week that the budget had been formally approved despite extensive protests from residents and students.
Lesley Dewhurst, who co-ordinates Oxford Homeless Pathways, said: “Given that Oxford is the most expensive place in the country, this cut does feel very short sighted. In the run up to the election, it seems political backstabbing has become more important than issues such as homelessness.”