Stroud District Council have announced a rise in council tax of 2.41% for 2020/21, and a new revenue budget of £14.7 million. This announcement includes capital investment in the restoration of the canal and Brimscombe port, and a £200k fund for a reduction in carbon.

Reading all this I sometimes wonder if the councillors at Stroud District Council have become so institutionalised that they have lost touch with what's really going on outside Ebley Mill? Or do they fear that their corporate masters will take away their privilege and role as a councillor?

Council tax and rent arrears is one of the biggest burdens on struggling families and the working poor, and with growing personal debt people are constantly fighting off court summons and living in fear of debt collectors knocking at the door. With universal credit, a rise in council tax will give landlords another reason to evict tenants.

When I have questioned the council, time and time again they repeat that 'Stroud's homelessness problem isn't as bad as other local areas.' However, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, from April - June 2019, one hundred and thirty nine people were assessed as homeless, and just ninety nine of these were owed 'relief duty.'

From spending time with rough sleepers and people who lose their homes, I have learned that the concept of making your self 'intentionally homeless' is used to keep the statistics artificially low, when many people lose their homes through no fault of their own (such as complaining to a landlord when a house has no heating or hot water, or is full of mold).

Labour led councils (together with socially aware greens) must recognise that we are not ONLY in a climate emergency, but that we face a humanitarian emergency with homelessness on our own doorstep.

The growing number of people on our streets in Stroud need properly managed, publicly accountable emergency housing; and appropriately trained, fairly paid, expert support staff for the cycle of problems they face with their mental and physical health, as well as addiction problems. This can only be achieved by bringing homelessness support back in house. Emergency reserves must be used for this now.

Councillors must get out of the cushy, warm meetings at Ebley Mill, leave their middle class comfort zones and go and listen to and spend time with people who face huge challenges to survive in our communities. If they don't, they risk losing seats at the district council elections in May.

Debbie Hicks