Category: Homelessness

Cardiff council and police forcibly remove homeless peoples’ essential life – preserving belongings

Jay blue

Homeless man, Jay Blue, who had his personal property seized by the council and police. Image: Jonathan Myers/WalesOnline)

Council officers cleared an ‘encampment of tents’ in Cardiff city centre on Wednesday after giving homeless people living there just 24 hours to leave.

I wonder where they imagined homeless people would go? 

Police officers supervised the evictions and at one point held a homeless man back as he remonstrated with officials and demanded the return of his possessions. He was stunned when his worldly possessions disappeared onto the back of a truck.

As the camp was cleared and property seized, the homeless man told council staff: “You have no right to throw my stuff away, this is what keeps me alive.”

He added: “You’re pushing me in a doorway and I’m not going in a doorway” before desperately grabbing onto the truck as it tried to drive away. He was subsequently ‘spoken to’ by police officers.

removing tents

“I will die before I give up this cause – people shouldn’t be living in tents,” he said.

He had desperately to recover his belongings. Tents and personal items from the site were loaded onto the back of a truck before being driven away from the encampment in parkland off Museum Place, Cardiff.

When the police and council left only one tent had remained in the area.

The 38-year-old man who had tried to reclaim his belongings, calls himself Jay Blue. He said he was making a stand to give homeless people the right help that will take him to City Hall or the Senedd if necessary.

He said: “They took my world – everything I owned apart from a couple of sleeping bags.

“I was happily sleeping last night but where am I going to sleep tonight? Probably sleeping in a doorway or pushed into a situation I don’t want to be in.

“It’s not getting easier, my situation. It’s just getting worse.

“I was in the city centre for three months hiding behind a big shop. There wasn’t a problem when I was there. When they moved me on there was nowhere I could really go.”

Jay said it was the seventh time he’d had his tent taken off him since he became homeless last November after leaving prison.

Cardiff council said it could not return the tent because it contained “needles, broken glass, and human waste”. 

Jay, who said he had been kept alive on the goodwill of strangers or charitable groups to get by, said that he’s had difficulty accessing benefits, and that he was willing to work for money and had even been litter-picking in the city when he can’t sleep.

He is calling for homeless people to be given their own safe accommodation rather than having to go into hostels, as he claims they are unsafe due to the prevalence of drugs.

The council said last week that they removed the ‘tent village’ from Museum Avenue because it had concerns about ‘antisocial behaviour and health and safety’ and ‘some people in the tents had refused to engage with their help.’ 

But some of the tent occupiers returned shortly afterwards which meant the council and police visited the area again on Wednesday after giving them just 24 hours to leave.

“I’m making a stand,” Jay said. “But every time I got somewhere or got some recognition they just crushed me back down.

“You’re pushing people in doorways so people can buy more coffees for the homeless in town. I want to sit in the park out of the way of everyone. But because I’m behind such a public building that gets sightseers driving past it all day I’m causing a problem.”

“Well I’ll be a problem for the rest of your life because I will be outside this police station saying this until you help people like me.”

Cardiff council claim there is no need for homeless people to sleep in tents as there is ‘more than enough emergency accommodation available.’

The council and homeless charities such as Huggard have previously insisted their services are ‘safe’ and people ‘could be at serious risk if they sleep out in tents.’

However, nothing has been done to address the longstanding systemic exclusion of single homeless people with complex needs.  Policymakers and wider society are preoccupied with using social security policy as a means to punish those pushed into poverty, because of what they deem ‘irresponsible’ behaviour, rather than focussing on providing services to adequately meet the basic needs of marginalised people. Furthermore, marginalised groups have become more vulnerable precisely because of government policies that have led to growing inequality and people being plunged into absolute poverty.

When the council began removing tents in the city in February it insisted it was not removing occupied tents and only getting rid of those that had been abandoned.

One Tory councillor who called on Cardiff council to ‘tear down’ homeless tents has attacked Twitter critics as ‘virtue signallers’ who ‘don’t represent public opinion.’

Councillor Kathryn Kelloway is standing by her Tweet which called on council leader Huw Thomas to “tear down these tents” in Queen Street. She’s said there is “no good reason for there to be tents” when Cardiff has enough emergency overnight accommodation for rough sleepers, and said allowing tents to be erected in the city centre “sends out the wrong message”.

Kelloway, who represents the Cyncoed area of Cardiff, has also said Twitter is “disproportionately used by political activists who are happy to misrepresent the views of others in order to signal their virtue and justify their hatred of opponents.”

Welsh Conservatives have distanced themselves from councillor Kelloway’s comments, saying they “in no way reflect the views of the Welsh Conservatives”.

The Tweet, which sparked a justifiable backlash with over 1,900 replies, says: “Cllr Thomas, if you seek safety in our city centre, if you seek prosperity for local businesses, if you seek a better image for Cardiff. Cllr Thomas come to Queen Street.

“Cllr Thomas, tear down these tents.” (See Homeless tents row Tory attacks Twitter critics as ‘virtue signallers’) 

Kelloway was suspended from Cardiff’s Conservative Group just hours after disgracefully urging council leader Huw Thomas to take action over tents on Queen Street. Responding to Kelloway, Cardiff council’s Labour leader Huw Thomas described her comments as “awfully judged”. 

He said: “Of course no one wants tents in our city centre, but we have to act sensitively, and support people into accommodation with help for their underlying needs. Small wonder homelessness is soaring under this Tory Government, if ‘tearing down tents’ is their mindset.” 

The ‘Parish pauper’ mentality 

The council say that outreach workers were able to ‘engage’ with another man on the site that was disbanded, and are helping him ‘reconnect with his home town’. 

This euphemism means that the workers are sending the person back to his home town, rather like the Parish paupers who were pushed on from one place to the next to cut costs, under the Elizabethan Poor Act of 1697.  The Act is probably best remembered for its expansion of the requirement that welfare recipients be marked to indicate their status, in this case by wearing a prominent badge on their right shoulder. These badges would contain the first letter of the parish name, followed by the letter “P” (pauper). The penalty to paupers who did not wear badges was whipping and imprisonment, and overseers providing relief to unbadged paupers were fined 20 shillings.

Part of the system involved the determination of what parish to which a recipient belonged, and was thereby responsible to provide relief to that recipient. Under the earlier Poor Relief Act 1662, also known as the Settlement Act, a parish could banish those poor unable to rent lodgings of at least £10 per year within forty days of their arrival in the parish. Those banished this way would be sent back to their parish of birth, or where they had resided in the prior three years. 

But moving people on doesn’t address the serious and often life-threatening problems faced by the growing number of people who are homeless.

Call me a ‘virtue signaller’ if you like, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the current system of homelessness support routinely fails to meet the most basic needs of many highly vulnerable homeless individuals, with many councils and the public preferring instead to simply move the evidence of a catastrophically failing system elsewhere, in the hope that it will somehow become invisible. 

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. If you like, you can help me by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability assessment, mandatory review and appeal.

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Council told vulnerable young person with mental health problems they could cope with homelessness as well as a ‘normal’ person

homeless

A Conservative council in Torbay has refused to support a young person with serious mental health problems, saying that they should be able to cope with being homeless and living on the streets like any “ordinary person” would.

In a letter, the council say that they had decided the young person would be no more vulnerable or at risk of harm than an ‘ordinary person’.

The appallingly callous letter, which also implies that people who have mental health problems are not ‘ordinary’ people, was posted online yesterday by the homeless charity, Humanity Torbay. 

Two of the conditions the young person has – depression and emotionally unstable personality disorder – each carry with them a significant risk of suicide.  People with the latter condition experience a pattern of sometimes rapid fluctuation from periods of confidence to despair, with fear of abandonment and rejection. There is a particularly strong tendency towards suicidal thinking and self-harm.

Transient psychotic symptoms, including brief delusions and hallucinations, may also be present. It is also associated with substantial impairment of social, psychological and occupational functioning and quality of life. Associated illnesses include post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, recurrent self harm, anxiety and depression. Physical illnesses related to this condition are: 

  • Arteriosclerosis
  • Hypertension
  • Hepatic disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Arthritis
  • Sexually transmitted infections (risk factor is increased because of poor impulse control).

Being homeless will increase each of these risks substantially.

People with emotionally unstable personality disorder are particularly at risk of suicide. 

A controversial council

Last month Torbay council paid £3m for the Proper Cornish factory in Bodmin, Cornwall, in a controversial bid to improve finances. The council announced it was  halting all non urgent expenditure due to a projected overspend of £2.8 million in 2018.

The council say they are trying to grow its revenues with business investments, and has spent £100m on four properties in the last financial year. The authority’s multi-million property portfolio includes hotels, office blocks and distribution centres in different parts of the country.

They claim that the council can invest up to £200m in “opportunities and assets” to generate income. Last month, cross-party opposition also emerged against a plan for Torbay Council to invest £15m in a new distribution warehouse near Exeter said to be for online retailer Amazon.

Meanwhile citizens in the area are being stripped of their opportunities and assets, with rising numbers being unable to meet even their fundamental survival needs – food, fuel and shelter.

Furthermore, evidence clearly shows that there is a considerable link between homelessness and mental health problems; however, this link is often overlooked. Sometimes mental health problems can lead to homelessness, but it’s also evident that being homeless contributes significantly to the worsening existing mental ill health, and it also creates mental illness.

A home is vital for stability, good mental and physical health, allowing people to live in safety, security, peace and dignity. Of course, there are numerous factors which can cause people to become homeless, many of which are beyond an individual’s control, such as lack of affordable housing, disability and poverty. But what really needs to be highlighted to this council is the two-way relationship between homelessness and mental ill health. Homelessness will invariably exacerbate an existing mental health condition. In turn, this can make it even harder for that person to cope, recover and to improve their circumstances.

Staff who work with homeless individuals in councils, shelters, hostels and health services, must be aware of their emotional and psychological needs, wellbeing, and put their safety first.

The homeless population currently struggle to access healthcare and tend to rely on A&E when they reach crisis point. Torbay council, who seem to operate within a business model, have nonetheless failed to recognise that their approach is ultimately more costly, and reflects very poor management of public funds.  

Although there is no such ‘right to housing’ in itself, the right to an adequate standard of living, including housing, is recognised in the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The letter from the Council was written to attempt to justify the council’s decision to not make the young person a priority for housing under Section 189(1) C of the Housing Act, 1996. The Council’s decision clearly violates the Equality Act 2010, as it fails to recognise the eligibility criteria laid out in the Act. All public authorities, including local authorities and other registered providers of social housing, are subject to the public sector equality duty to have ‘due regard’ to the need to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination
  • advance equality of opportunity, and
  • foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not.

This allows for positive discrimination in relation to disability (see the Public sector equality duty for more on this). Under the Equality Act, mental illness is also included in the category of disability, which is a ‘protected characteristic’. 

Under the Housing Act legislation, priority need for accommodation was established. 

(1) The following have a priority need for accommodation—

(a) a pregnant woman or a person with whom she resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;

(b) a person with whom dependent children reside or might reasonably be expected to reside;

(c) a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;

(d) a person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness as a result of an emergency such as flood, fire or other disaster.

Torbay homeless

Torbay 2

The shocking council letter to a vulnerable young person with mental ill health.

Charity and community group Humanity Torbay say they have shown the decision letter to a solicitor, while not disclosing any personal details, to protect the identity of the vulnerable young person concerned.

This person showed the charity the letter, however, because they wished the public to see the awful situation they were placed in and the risks they were exposed to because of the council’s decision, despite being so unwell and vulnerable to begin with.

A spokesperson for Humanity Torbay said: What is so appalling, what completely horrified us is that this person was not considered priority need after being housed temporarily.

“The most chilling part of all this was that this particular person who came to us was in great distress and need. It’s so terrible that they were told that “however looking at all the facts I believe that you are resilient enough to manage with a reasonable level of functionality and I’m not satisfied that your ability to manage being homeless even that homelessness must result in you having to sleep rough occasionally or in the longer term would deteriorate to a level where the harm you’re likely to experience would be outside of the range of vulnerability of that an ordinary person would experience.” 

“What shocked us was the fact we saw this young person’s doctors’ letters as well. We are sure this is happening all over the country but this is Torbay Council, who we have desperately tried to work with. 

“We felt a care of duty to our client who asked us to give this to the public so they could see what is going on. We have been very careful to make sure this persons identity is not compromised in anyway and as we say, we have spoken to a solicitor because we are horrified and shocked that somebody with severe depression and other medical conditions is deemed fit to be able to sleep on the streets.

“Torbay Council are well aware of what gender this person is as well.”

This is another factor that adds to the already considerable vulnerability of this young person. 

Last year, a report was published about Torbay’s homeless crisis, saying that £918,800 investment over five years was needed to “reach a point where homelessness levels would plateau”.

The council seem rather more interested in investing in property, business and land, however. 

The charity Crisis were commissioned by the Shekinah Mission in Plymouth to carry out a detailed piece of work to respond to the rising number of rough sleepers in Torbay. 

The authors say they spoke with a range of organisations as well as 50 people who have experienced homelessness in Torbay – although Humanity Torbay say they were not contacted. The report resulted in Torbay Council deciding to ‘relocate services and move to a dispersed accommodation model‘ and create ‘a team to support people with the most complex lives integrated with other social care pathways’. 

John Hamblin, Chief Executive of Shekinah, said: “For over 25 years, Shekinah has been supporting people who are homeless and rough sleeping. During this time we have repeatedly seen the failure of the current accommodation system to support people with multiple and complex needs. The result has been the creation of a revolving door system where people are falling in and out of services and are often left with no access to accommodation. We are hoping that through this Nationwide Foundation funded study, Shekinah and its partners can start to realise the aspiration that everyone deserves a place to call home.”

I agree. Everyone deserves a place to call home. Shelter is, after all, a fundamental human survival need. But we have reached a stage, as a society, where the most vulnerable citizens are not considered a priority for support. Those are the people that are most in need of it.

 

I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through Universal Credit, PIP and ESA assessment, mandatory review and appeal. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Housing Secretary admits government policies may have contributed to rising homelessness

brokenshire

The government spend a lot of time denying that their welfare policies have any harmful consequences on citizens’ lives. However, an outspoken Conservative minister has remarkably all but admitted that policy choices by the Conservatives  are at least partly responsible for record levels of homelessness and rough sleeping, particularly those policies related to Housing Benefit. 

The Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire (pictured above), has admitted that policies may have “played a role” in rising levels of homelessness. He made the confession in an interview published on the Politico website on Christmas Eve, in an apparent U-turn on his previous comments, in which he insisted that austerity is not to blame for the current homelessness epidemic.

In an interview with the Guardian, Brokenshire had previously dismissed claims that government policies, including cuts to social security benefits, are fueling the rise in the numbers of households who are subjected to eviction orders and extreme poverty.

But in his latest interview, Brokenshire accepted that the UK government “need to ask ourselves some very hard questions” about policy choices and how those choices have impacted on some of the poorest members of society.

This apparent rethink follows the tragic death of rough sleeper Gyula Remes, who collapsed and died just yards from the Houses of Parliament, prompting a Labour MP to tweet: “There is something rotten in Westminster when MPs walk past dying homeless people on their way to work.”

Brokenshire had previously argued that record levels of homelessness seen in the last five years are a result of a “combination of concerning elements in terms of addiction, family breakdown issues”. 

Generally, government ministers respond to legitimate concerns raised regarding  the harmful consequences of their programme of social security cuts by either blaming those affected; citing some assumed personal failing or character deficit, circumstantial events or attitudinal barriers, or they accuse those voicing concerns and citing case examples of negative policy impacts as “scaremongers”.  

Yet the government’s own data shows that since 2014, the loss of a private tenancy has been the biggest cause of homelessness in England. According to research by Generation Rent, 94% of this rise can be blamed on ‘no-fault evictions’, which have more than doubled since 2010. The precariousness of private sector tenancies, combined with a chronic shortage of social housing, punitive welfare reforms and successive years of cuts to homelessness prevention services, have created a ‘perfect storm.’ 

When asked by Politico, however, if Government policies have attributed to rising levels of homelessness, Brokenshire admitted: “We do have to look and reflect on ourselves as to the increase.

“Yes there are other factors that are relevant here, but we have to look at the policy.”

We have to ask ourselves “some very hard questions … for example in relation to the introduction of changes to welfare”, he added, and also “whether we’ve done enough [to mitigate the damages].”

Although Brokenshire has appeared to shrug off any suggestion that government policies since 2010 might be to blame, on the Today programme over the Christmas holidays, former Chancellor George Osborne went much further and insisted austerity – which included brutal cuts to welfare payments, local authority budgets, public health spending, the police, other public services and the ministry of justice – has played no part whatsoever.

In the exclusive interview with Politico, Brokenshire says: “The death of 43-year-old Gyula Remes came as a shock in Westminster, where workers have got used to walking past up to half a dozen homeless people every day.

“It’s a stark reminder that what we’re talking about is individual lives.”

Brokenshire added: “I share the feelings that everybody has, of shock and distress in knowing this individual had lost his life.”

He is reluctant to comment on the specific case – a Westminster Council review is underway  – but insists that accommodation had previously been offered to all the people sleeping rough.

“There’d been a lot of help and support offered. Offers of accommodation had been made. Some people had taken them up … [But] it’s a fact that in a number of cases, the roof over the head may well be there but for a number of reasons the rough sleeper may not be willing to take up that help.

“It is certainly not from my perspective saying they are somehow to blame, as some have tried to portray this as — that is profoundly not what I am saying. It’s about compassion and support … It’s complicated because of some of the real challenges of mental health and addiction.”

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

The first ever official figures on the number of homeless people who have tragically died were recently published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The figures reveal that nearly 600 homeless people died in 2017, with more than half of those deaths attributed to alcohol, drug abuse, or suicide. 

Ben Humberstone, head of health analysis at the ONS, said: “What’s striking about these figures is how different they are to the general population – 55% of the deaths of homeless people are related to drugs, suicide or alcohol, also known as the diseases of despair, compared to just 3% of deaths from these causes among the general population.”

However, we must not conflate causes with effects. The statistical data does not tell us whether those 55% of deaths – related to substance misuse or suicide –  would have happened had the citizens concerned not been pushed into destitution, or whether poor mental health and substance misuse contributed to people becoming homeless in the first place. Government statistics show that private sector tenancies coming to an end are the leading cause of homelessness, coupled with low wages and cuts to welfare and delays in payments, leading to insurmountable rent arrears, in both public and private sector housing.

Previously, Brokenshire is on record denying that government cuts have created the spike in homelessness statistics, saying: “I don’t see it in those terms.” He said. “I see it as a combination of concerning elements in terms of addiction, family breakdown issues. The thing that struck me over recent months in speaking to some of the LGBT charities in terms of young people, because of their sexuality, being thrown out of home.”

Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister Melanie Onn MP said: “These figures are utterly shameful and reflect a complete failure of Conservative policy on housing, which has seen rough sleeping skyrocket since 2010.

“We are one of the richest countries in the world and there is no excuse for people dying on our streets.

“Labour will provide £100m to ensure that everyone has shelter when it becomes dangerously cold.

“We will end rough sleeping within five years to ensure that everyone has a place to call home.”

The Conservatives reiterated their pledge to eradicate rough sleeping by 2027.  Brokenshire said that work was under way with the Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, to “assess where problems were”.

Brokenshire also revealed that although he personally does not give money to homeless people, he said he buys the Big Issue when he can.

I don’t make any money from my work, and often struggle to get by. If you like, you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others affected by the welfare reforms.

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Please can someone help this girl who is sleeping in a bin

No one should ever have to live like this in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. 

In 2013, Chris Skidmore, a Conservative MP, claimed that the impact of austerity and public service cuts wasn’t bad because people have not been left “lying dead in the streets”. He made the remarks at the Conservative conference during a meeting of the Thatcherite Free Enterprise Group.

He defended the comments at the time, and said: “The point I was making was that when we were making cuts, people suggested they were so bad that people would be lying dead in the streets. That has clearly not happened.

“With the economy recovering it is not the picture of doom that was predicted.”

People ARE dying because of austerity. And more than 500 homeless people have died in the last 12 months in the UK

Labour MP Lisa Nandy responded to Skidmore’s comments, saying that they exposed the Conservative’s callous attitude to people hit hard by their austerity measures.

She added: “It’s a pretty extreme measure by which to assess the impact of cuts. Hundreds of thousands have been hit by the bedroom tax and a million youngsters are out of work.

“People will be shocked to hear the dismissive way Tories treat suffering.”

The denial, strategic narrating and editing of people’s accounts of their experiences of austerity by this disgraceful government must end. There is no use for a government that simply uses techniques of neutralisation and calls those raising legitimate concerns ‘scaremongers’ to divert us from the fact that their policies are inflicting great distress, harm and premature death on some targeted groups, and to stifle valid criticism.

What is the point of a government that does not ensure that citizens in the UK have the means of meeting their most basic survival needs, in the sixth wealthiest nation in the world, while handing out public funds it has taken from the public to millionaires and rogue private companies? 

It’s time for positive change. In fact for many of us, change is essential if we are to survive. 

Earlier this year, a homeless man died from horrific injuries after sleeping in a bin in Rochester, Kent. He was wrapped in a roll of carpet to keep warm, when the bin was emptied. Russell Lane did not wake up and was hidden from view under the carpet. This tragic incident is a further reminder of the risks associated with sleeping in bins – both in cases involving homeless individuals, or those on a night out. Hypothermia may make homeless people drowsy and they may experience difficulty with their level of alertness and with waking up.

Large padded bins are a sheltered location to sleep, but those sleeping in them are often hard to detect and are at risk of serious injury or death both from falls into collection vehicles and the deadly compressing machinery within them. Imagine how awful it must be having to choose between dying of hypothermia and exposure or taking a risk and bedding down in a bin.

Just before Christmas last year twenty-eight-year-old Jay McLaren was found dead at a recycling plant after sleeping in a bin following a night out in Sunderland town centre, while last July there was a large-scale search for the body of RAF gunner Corrie McKeague who, it is believed, fell asleep in a bin in Bury St Edmunds before being unknowingly taken to landfill for incineration.

As a so-called civilised society, we mustn’t look the other way. In cold weather, the plight of people who have no shelter is especially harsh, and many passersby may struggle to know what to do. But here are small things we can each do to make a difference, and reduce the dangers of freezing weather for homeless citizens. For example:

  • We could stop, smile and buy someone a warm drink, or provide some warm food.
  • We could set up places were people can take their old coats and blankets, socks, hats, gloves, scarves – and then distribute those to people sleeping rough. Or even set up a point in each town so that homeless people know where to go for warm clothes that have been donated.
  • We can also contact Streetlink. (Click) When a rough sleeper is reported via the Streetlink app, or by phone – telephone number 0300-500 0914. The details  you provide are sent to the local authority concerned, so they can help connect the person to local services and support. You will also receive an update on what action was taken so you’ll know if the situation was resolved. StreetLink aims to offer the public a means to act when they see someone sleeping rough, and is the first step someone can take to ensure rough sleepers are connected to the local services and support available to them.

Please help this poor girl.

The young woman was found in the recycling wheelie bin could have been crushed to death had she had not been found and filmed by a refuse collector. He bought her a meal. However, no one seems to know where she is now.

People are starving destitute and dying on the streets because of draconian Conservative policies that were designed to cruelly punish the poorest citizens.

It’s time that people in the UK stopped looking the other way.


 

I would like to help, but I live at the other end of the country, and would struggle to travel down to London at the moment, as I am very unwell with a lupus flare. I have to get to the hospital in Newcastle on Monday (Christmas eve) for an emergency appointment with my specialist for some additional treatment – it’s usually a high dose shot of steroids. So I can’t travel at the moment.


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation if you like, which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others facing the consequences of the punitive welfare ‘reforms’.

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Labour pledges to repeal nineteenth century law criminalising rough sleepers

Image result for for the many not the few

Friday 21 December 2018 / 10:18 PM
 Jeremy Corbyn

 

Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Housing Minister Melanie Onn have announced that the next Labour government will repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824 which criminalises begging and rough sleeping.

They will say that the priority should be to support, not criminalise, those who are sleeping rough or begging.

The Georgian-era legislation is unnecessary for dealing with genuine anti-social behaviour as a number of other civil measures exist in modern legislation, including civil injunctions and criminal behaviour orders.

The Vagrancy Act was used to bring a criminal charge nearly 3,000 times in 2016 with offences under the act commanding a fine of up to £1,000 and leaving those convicted under it with a two year criminal record.

Labour has committed to ending rough sleeping within five years of forming the next Labour Government, with a plan to reserve 8,000 homes for those with a history of rough sleeping.

Earlier this week, the Shadow Housing Secretary, announced plans for a £100m fund to make emergency cold weather accommodation available for every rough sleeper during winter. 

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, said:

“It should shame us all that rough sleeping has doubled in the last eight years and nearly 600 people died while homeless last year.

“Homeless people need help, not punishment.

“The next Labour government will make ending homelessness a priority. We want to build a society which doesn’t walk by on the other side when we see someone in need.” 

Melanie Onn MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister, said:

“It beggars belief that we still use Georgian-era laws to criminalise some of the most vulnerable in society.

“Treating rough sleepers as criminals does not solve the underlying causes of homelessness and makes it harder for them to access support to move away from the streets.

“Rather than criminalising rough sleepers Labour would support them, with 8,000 new homes available to those with a history of rough sleeping as part of a plan to eradicate rough sleeping within five years.”

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation if you like, which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others facing the consequences of the punitive welfare ‘reforms’.

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More than 500 homeless people have died in the last 12 months in the UK

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A landmark, year-long independent investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that 544 homeless peolple have died on Britain’s streets since last winter, although they say the true number is likely to be much higher.

The Bureau’s count of people who have died homeless in the UK since last winter was published just days before the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is due to produce its own first ever count of deaths.

Those that died include an 81 year-old man who was sleeping on the streets, a mother of two that died in a night shelter and a 47 year-old man who died after being tipped into a bin lorry.

The project prompted the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to start compiling its own figures on homeless deaths in England and Wales, which it will release on December 20. Scotland and Northern Ireland’s national records offices are now also considering similar counts.

In October the government pledged to make sure deaths were investigated by local authorities so that lessons could be learned. The Bureau’s figures are “utterly shocking,” said Housing Secretary James Brokenshire, and “it is so important that we understand what has caused those deaths, [by] actually having serious case reviews.”

However, while Brokenshire admitted the figures were “utterly shocking”, he rejected allegations that government policies are behind the growing housing and homelessness crisis. He insisted instead that the “causes of homelessness and rough sleeping are multi-layered and complex”.

“I don’t see it in those terms,” he said – referring to the alleged impact of government policies on low-income and vulnerable people.

“I see it as a combination of concerning elements in terms of addiction, family breakdown issues.”

Brokenshire said he believes that homelessness is driven by factors including the spread of psychoactive drugs such as spice, the growth in non-UK nationals on the streets and family breakdown. These are, however, traditional Conservative stereotypes that are used to explain every social problem and instance of poverty that is linked with the government’s punitive welfare policy and wider austerity programme.  

He continued: “The thing that struck me over recent months in speaking to some of the LGBT charities in terms of young people, because of their sexuality, being thrown out of home.”

He continued waffling: “The causes of homelessness and rough sleeping are multi-layered and complex and therefore we do need to look at this in that way and ensure that councils and other agencies are getting ahead of this and preventing people becoming homeless in the first place.

That is the agenda I want to move to in the new year.”

However the government has admitted that it has not offered any extra funding or support to councils to help them do this. 

The Bureau has found many local authorities are still failing to carry out such reviews, citing lack of resources or saying they do not believe the cases meet the relevant statutory requirements. 

“In one of the world’s richest nations, people with nowhere to turn are dying.” 

In Norfolk, where at least 10 people have died homeless in the last year, the director of Public Health, Dr Louise Smith, said there would be no case reviews because of the review’s “significant cost and our limited resources”. 

Despite the fact that five people died in the same homeless hostel in one year, Brighton and Hove council said that no Safeguarding Adult Reviews would be undertaken, because the deaths had not met the “statutory criteria”. Redbridge council also echoed this reasoning. 

It is crucial that all homeless deaths are investigated so that lessons can be learned, said Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis. “It is disappointing that no progress has been made to support local authorities to implement this.” 

He added: “These statistics are a harrowing reminder of how deadly life on the streets can be.

“As we get closer to Christmas and temperatures are dropping, rough sleepers are facing exposure to dangerous conditions, above and beyond the violence and abuse often experienced when living on the streets.

“It’s a failure of the largest magnitude that in one of the world’s richest nations, people with nowhere to turn are dying.

“This has to stop and the government must put in place a full-scale plan to end homelessness once and for all.

“We also need to see the review system used to investigate the deaths of vulnerable adults expanded to include all cases of people who have died whilst street homeless.

“With this in place, crucial lessons can be learned that help prevent further deaths.

“The government recently pledged to make this happen, but it is disappointing that no progress has been made to support local authorities to implement this.

“We cannot wait any longer, we need to see action now.”

“It’s a failure of the largest magnitude that in one of the world’s richest nations, people with nowhere to turn are dying. This has to stop and the government must put in place a full-scale plan to end homelessness once and for all.”

Howard Sinclair, Chief Executive of St Mungo’s, went even further and called for specific funding for reviews: “We think there is a strong case for Government to fund a separate programme outside of the Safeguarding Adult Review process to ensure every death of someone sleeping rough is reviewed. This way we can identify the changes needed, at the local and national level, to stop these tragedies,” he said.

A recent report from the housing charity Shelter warned that rising homelessness is due to a ‘combination of unaffordable rents, frozen housing benefits and a severe shortage of social housing’.

Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, blamed “the perfect storm of spiralling rents, welfare cuts and a total lack of social housing” for causing the increasing numbers of homeless people in the UK.

Other research has found that more than 24,000 homeless people will spend this festive season sleeping rough, exposed not only to the harmful elements but also at risk of verbal and physical abuse – and far too often – death.

 

Related

Meet Liam and Michelle. It’s time to listen to the voices of homeless people about the fatal flaws of Universal Credit

Two very vulnerable homeless men left to die in sub-zero temperatures

Please don’t just walk on by, we are better than this

Government backs new law to prevent people made homeless through government laws from becoming homeless

From the abstract to the concrete: urban design as a mechanism of behaviour change and social exclusion

Conservative MPs accuse citizens of ‘scaremongering stories’ about experiences of Universal Credit.

 


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CEO of charity speaks out about the devastating impact of Universal Credit despite threats

Image result for homeless people

The founder of a homeless charity has claimed she won’t be able to receive any Lottery funding unless she stops publicly criticising universal credit and the government. She claimed an official told her to not express any more of her opinions about universal credit and the government or she won’t receive any money.

The Big Lottery Fund is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The charity was set up last year to help homeless and vulnerable people in Torbay. The charity founder and chief executive, Ellie Waugh, has previously said that an unofficial policy of ‘social cleansing’ is being applied to remove homeless people from Torquay town centre. 

The charity has been offering support services and food to the homeless and disadvantaged groups from its offices in Castle Road, opposite Torquay Town Hall.

Waugh said it had been feeding around 200 people a week during the summer, with up to 500 in the winter, and there was a group of around 20 regular visitors who spent a lot of time at the centre.

Last December the charity applied to the Conservative Torbay Council for permission to use the building as an advice centre so the services could carry on being provided at the building.

Earlier this year a business leader controversially accused the charity of ‘attracting more homeless people to the area’, and blamed that for causing a fall in takings at some shops.

Waugh said the charity was told in July it had to stop feeding people and to only permit a maximum of five clients at a time in the building. 

In January Waugh said the charity was asked by a senior Torbay councillor to close early on a day when major investors were coming to discuss a multi-million development – because homeless people were an ‘eyesore’. And there was more controversy a month later when Torquay Chamber of Trade chairman Susie Colley blamed the charity for an increase in rough-sleeping and begging in the town centre, which was ‘harming trade and seeing shop takings fall.’

In March, business people in the seaside town started naming and shaming beggars they believe to be “fake” as part of a campaign to drive them off the streets. The Sun, however, has claimed that these business people are a part of the charity, whic of course is rubbish. The vigilante campaign was started by a pub owner, Ashley Sims, who threatened to ‘name and shame anyone falsely claiming to be homeless.’ The campaign was heavily criticised by the police. 

Many people support the charity’s work at the centre and a petition with 81 names backing the application was handed in to Torbay Council in May.

In October the charity said it had found homes for more than 600 people and jobs or training for 150 more. 

One supporter wrote: “This is a vital service needed for the vulnerable, homeless and those in need in the local community. It provides an excellent service to the community and is of benefit to the area.” 

Another said: “I feel that this service is a major asset to Torbay; its service provided to me was crucial to being re-homed and they also provided a great general care in my health and well-being.”

Now, Waugh has chosen to speak out about the devastating impact of Universal Credit despite threats from the Council and funders, because she thinks the public needs to know how dire the situation is for many people. Charities are not permitted to criticise government policies such as Universal Credit and may lose funding and aid as a consequence.

The charity were due what would have been their first grant from the Big Lottery Fund but Waugh said they were “screwed” after speaking out and would now probably receive nothing.

Trustee Shirley Holbrook said she was in the room when lottery official allegedly made the statement. She said: “She said categorically if we were to receive a big lottery grant we would be unable to speak out against Universal Credit or any other government measure that affected our clients adversely.

“We are not a political organisation. We speak out about homelessness because we deal with the results of it every day.” She said the main problem with Universal Credit was it was paid at the end of the month, while the old system saw claimants get cash at the beginning of the month.

Holbrook added that the charity has launched a crowdfunding page to make up for the money they have missed out on from the Big Lottery Fund. The charity helps up to three hundred people per week and is run by Waugh and another full-time member of staff with a team of 17 volunteers.

A spokesperson for Big Lottery Fund said it funded Humanity Torbay £10,000 in July 2017 which was announced as part of its publicly disclosed funding announcement. They said it was actively working with them on their further application for £130k and no decision has been yet made on this.

The spokesperson added: “It is incorrect to suggest we would withhold funding from any organisation on the basis of what they say publicly on social issues. We fund thousands of projects that are run by organisations that, in the course of their other activities, may also campaign on a range of topics or issues. “While we are clear – and it’s our stated policy – that our funding cannot be directly used for such activity, we do not prevent any grant holder from voicing their views on an issue that is important to them, their organisation or community.”

This is one of Waugh’s online accounts of the desperation, harm and utter destruction of people’s lives that Universal Credit is inflicting on increasing numbers. She regularly posts videos online in which she talks about the impacts of the controversial new benefits system on the homeless.

Ellie Waugh speaking out: “It’s absolutely awful out there”.


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