Category: Homelessness

Meet the multimillionaire who thinks homeless people should sleep in wheelie bins

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Multimillionaire Peter Dawe (pictured above), who ran as the Brexit Party candidate in the General Election, has ‘crafted a pod’ out of two wheelie bins that he hopes will somehow alleviate the problem of rough sleeping. 

Dawe fashioned what he called a ‘sleep pod’ out of two red wheelie bins, which turn on a hinge to create enough room for someone to lie down in. The entrepreneur, who picked up 1.9% of the votes when he ran in the General Election in Cambridge last year, says the ‘invention’ costs just £100. He has dozens of companies and projects listed on his website, and he believes the ‘invention’ could have a global impact.

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Dawe spending 10 minutes in his wheelie bin ‘pod’

“I saw on the telly rough sleepers complaining they had been kicked and pissed upon,” he explained.

“Lying on the street in a sleeping bag, you are very vulnerable.”

He added that it was something of a ‘Marmite’ idea: “some people think it’s genius, others are actually horrified.”

“It’s denigrating to be rough sleeping – end of story.

“I think it is more comfortable and more secure sleeping in a sleep pod, rather than being huddled in a wet sleeping bag being kicked.

“I’m not solving homelessness or the rough sleeper problem, I’m just mitigating it or giving them the opportunity to.

“I try not to make any presumptions, and in my view no one should either.”

Dawe came up with the idea after building a prototype for a single person car, also from a bin.

When asked if he had slept inside the bins, Dawe said he’d spent ten minutes laid down in them. He said he “got inside a bin and discovered how comfortable it was.”

He also suggested that the ‘product’ could be used as a storage space for clothes and other items in the day time. However, when Dawe took two of his ‘prototypes’ to a local homeless shelter in Cambridge, curiously, no volunteers came forward to try it out. I really can’t imagine why…

The ‘invention’ has unsurprisingly attracted some derision and horror on social media. The Mirror’s ‘Real Britain’ columnist. Ros Wynne Jones, said: “I recently interviewed someone who had been homeless and forced to sleep in a bin during bad weather, and it was the only bit of their whole awful story where they cried, because it was so utterly humiliating to have to say it out loud.”

Matthew Taylor said “This is possibly one of the worst and most demeaning inventions I’ve ever seen.

“Bear in mind that you could buy a cheap tent for that price and it might actually work to sleep in.

Graeme Stewart said: “People genuinely think shipping containers for the homeless are a great idea.

“Well this is next level stuff.

“I don’t know whether to laugh in disbelief or cry.”

I think the shipping containers are a poor solution, too, but as a temporary option, a significantly better idea than the outrageous wheelie bin ‘pod’.

Last year a homeless man, Russell Lane, was forced to  sleep in a wheelie bin, and he died after he was crushed by a rubbish truck. He had graduated from college with health and social care qualification just months before he died. His legs were severely crushed after the empty bin he was sleeping in was emptied into the lorry. He died of an infection and ruptured artery in his leg. 

Before that, in 2009, a homeless man was crushed to death in the bin lorry, after he had fallen asleep in a wheelie bin. Raymond Pickering was living rough in and around Nottingham and fell asleep in a large commercial wheelie bin, the city’s coroner’s court was told.

But, on the morning of May 15, the bin was emptied with him inside and he was crushed to death before his body was found hours later at Biffa’s waste-management site in Colwick.

In 2012, a homeless man was horrifically crushed to death after the wheelie bin he had fallen asleep in was emptied into a compacter lorry. He died of catastrophic head injuries. Twenty people have died in the last 10 years after being accidentally thrown into trucks, according to the Waste Industry Safety and Health organisation.

The remains of Matthew Symonds were found in a waste recycling plant in Bristol in 2014. He had taken refuge underneath some cardboard in a bin in Swindon bin after being refused entry to a homeless shelter, and was tipped into a compacter lorry as he slept.

Between 2010 and 2018 the official estimated number of people sleeping on the streets rose by 165% across the UK to around 4,677. The ‘unofficial’ figure is likely to be much higher.

Unite’s national officer Matt Draper said: “Peter Dawe’s idea is dangerous and grossly offensive. Our members who work in the refuse sector already have to check bins to prevent people being crushed to death in the back of lorries. Encouraging more people to seek shelter in bins is extremely irresponsible. 

“This idea would do nothing to address the shameful rise in homelessness Britain has experienced in recent years and would only further stigmatise individuals who are in desperate need of help.” 

For right wing, very wealthy entrepreneurs like Peter Dawe, the idea that homeless people should have adequately funded and effective support services and access to a social security system that ensures everyone in the UK can meet the costs of their basic survival requirements – for food fuel and shelter – rather than having a draconian system imposed on them which is creating absolute poverty and destitution seems to have never crossed their mind. 

 


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

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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.

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“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. 

 


 

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

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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.

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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.

 

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Housing Secretary admits government policies may have contributed to rising homelessness

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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.

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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

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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.

 

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

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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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Tory minister endorses making hostile environment for homeless people even more hostile

Kit Malthouse, the new housing minister, thinks that homeless people can be simply “incentivised” out of their homelessness.

The new Conservative Housing Minister has a very controversial record on homelessness, during his tenure at Westminster City Council – in that he wasn’t fond of there being any homeless people within Westminster and tried to clear them from the City. He once claimed that homeless people in the UK are “too comfortable” sleeping on the streets and suggested that “hosing them out of doorways” was the ‘right’ policy approach, it has been reported.

He’s not much of a housing enthusiast, evidently. Malthouse was previously elected to the London Assembly seat of West Central, and within days was also appointed by Boris Johnson as Deputy Mayor for Policing, a role in which he served for four years. In 2012 he was moved to become the first Deputy Mayor for Business and Enterprise, with a brief to improve employment figures in the capital.

Callous Christopher Laurie ‘Kit’ Malthouse, a former work and pensions minister, was appointed as Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government by Theresa May, after Dominic Rabb was announced as the new Brexit Secretary in the wake of a rebellion and resignations over the Prime Minister’s approach to leaving the EU. 

Anyone hoping for a softer and more humane approach to Britain’s homelessness crisis are likely to be disappointed, because Malthouse has a shameless history of contempt and animosity towards homeless citizens.

As Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council, Malthouse was accused of being “ruthless” towards homeless people and rough sleepers, including supporting the idea of “hosing them out of doorways”, according to Mirror Online.

In April 2008 he boasted: “We certainly instituted a policy of making life – it sounds counterintuitive and cruel – more uncomfortable; that is absolutely right.”

He added: “One of the targets [I was] set was to [remove] more than halve the number in Westminster. 

“Working with a number of charities and groups across Westminster we analysed the problem, and one of the issues was that in many ways – it sounds counterintuitive – life was too comfortable on the street.

“I know that sounds an awful thing to say but let me finish the argument, OK?.”

It sounds a Conservative thing to say.  The Conservatives have approached the social problems that their own policies have created, such as increasing poverty and destitution – by blaming and punishing those affected by neoliberal policies. That approach isn’t ‘counterintuitive’, it’s brutal, callous and dishonest. This approach, dressed up in the language of nudge, is an attempt at propping up a failing system, and justifying Tory dogma. It’s a government that’s fond of meaningless management jargon and boardroom psychological woo woo. 

I have yet to hear of a homeless person who stopped being homeless because they were made to face even more ordeals. The idea that gratuitously punishing (euphemised as “incentivising”) poor and homeless people ‘out of’ poverty and homelessness is utterly barbaric . Punitive and hostile policies simply present people with further barriers to escaping dire circumstances and perpetuate the misery of poverty and homelessness. 

Malthouse continued: “There were, at the time, plenty, well-funded – we managed to get quite a lot of funding – night shelters and night centres; we managed to extract a cheque for £130,000 for St. Martin’s so it could stay open all night.

“The difficulty was getting rough sleepers into those centres so that they could be interacted with, their needs could be met.”

He has also been reported as saying: “The idea that everyone begging is down on their luck is a fantasy”, and claimed in the run up to the last General Election that people who are forced to visit foodbanks do so because they ‘cannot properly manage their finances.’

Malthouse, now MP for North West Hampshire, described the council’s campaign of “positive and negative incentives” as an attempt to reduce ‘begging’ in the area. 

After 27 homeless people were arrested by police in 2004, Malthouse argued that his “zero tolerance” approach to homelessness should be adopted by other local authorities.

Alexandra Morris, Managing Director of online letting agent MakeUrMove, said: “It is hugely disappointing that the housing brief is once again the poor relation. We’re staring down the barrel of a very real housing crisis.

“The Government needs to make housing a priority, and this starts with appointing an expert on housing with a firm commitment to the role.”

Malthouse was told to resign in 2016 as patron of the MS Society, the national charity that campaigns on issues surrounding multiple sclerosis, and was no longer seen as “suitable” for the position after he voted in favour of cuts to ESA that would see people with multiple sclerosis among hundreds of thousands of disabled people to lose critical allowances.

The charity Crisis was among those to take exception to Malthouse’s approach – called  Operation Loose Change – which was enacted by Westminster Council and the Met Police.

A spokesperson for the charity said: “All this will create is a series of additional barriers for people wanting to escape homelessness for good. 

“The vast majority of people who beg are homeless and all are vulnerable. What they desperately need is support to deal with their problems and find a route back into society. Ignoring these problems and embarking on costly crackdowns is a waste of public money and grossly demeaning to homeless people.”

It’s worth noting that according to TheyWorkForYou, Malthouse has voted:

  • Consistently for new High Speed Rail infrastructure (HS2) (2 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
  • Consistently for reducing funding to local governments (3 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
  • Generally voted against increasing powers to local government (4 for – 11 against – 0 abstentions)
  • Consistently voted for phasing out secure tenancies for life (5 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
  • Consistently voted for charging a market rent to high earners renting a council home (5 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions).

Malthouse’s statement following his appointment at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government: “I am delighted to be appointed as Minister of State for Housing.

“Building the homes this country needs is a top priority for this government. I am keen to build on the real progress that has been made and start working with the sector so we can deliver more homes, restore the dream of home ownership and build a housing market fit for the future.”

“I’m also committed to continuing the important work of supporting those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and ensuring people are safe, and feel safe in their homes.”

I can’t help but wonder, given his last paragraph, what “real progress” he is referring to.

Neoliberalism is based on competitive individualism. In such a competitive system it’s inevitable that there will be a few “winners” and many “losers”. That’s what “competition” means. It means no rewards for most people – inequality and poverty for the many, wealth for a few. It’s not possible to “work hard” to change this. Inequality is entrenched because of the system of governance and policy choices. Therefore it’s hardly fair or appropriate for a government to blame and punish people for the failings of their own imposed ideology – a political and economic mode of organisation – which most ordinary people did not intentionally choose.
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Related

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

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

Please don’t walk on by. We are better than this

 

 


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can help support my work on Politics and Insights if you like, by making a donation. This will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support and advice to others who are going through disability claims, assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals.

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Research finds 80% of rough sleepers who died in London in 2017 had mental health needs

Image result for homelessness reduction act

A research report published on Tuesday by the homeless charity St Mungo’s shows that four out of five (80%) rough sleepers who died in the capitol in 2017 had mental health needs, a huge increase from three in 10 (29%) in 2010. The rise in deaths of rough sleepers with mental health problems have risen sharply over the last seven years, prompting concern that specialist services are not reaching those who need them. 

The number of people sleeping rough has risen by 169% since 2010. Last year in England more than 4,700 people slept rough on any one night, and a far larger number experienced rough sleeping during the course of the year.

The charity is calling on the prime minister to take urgent action to prevent more people dying on the streets and ensure that the deaths are not ignored. The charity says the government need to invest more in specialist support, as NHS services are “severely overstretched”. this could sometimes be overlooked. Petra Salva, director of St Mungo’s rough sleeping services, said:

This is a scandal and something the government needs to recognise and do more about … there should be more funds and support for these groups but instead they have been cut over the years and that correlates in these people stuck living on the streets … these deaths are preventable.”

He added: “The rise is because rough sleepers with mental health support needs end up sleeping rough and the help isn’t there and when it is there it is not quick enough … access to help and support is getting harder and so the prevalence of death … is increasing.”

The report said “Research carried out by St Mungo’s showed that only 32% of the areas where 10 or more people are sleeping rough on any one night commission mental health services actively targeting people sleeping rough.” 

The report also featured a survey of dozens of street outreach workers and 63% said they were aware of someone who had died while sleeping rough in their local authority area last year. However, only 23% had experienced a review being carried out.

“With access to vital emergency accommodation and support services getting harder and harder, it is unsurprising that the number people dying on the streets is rising. Urgent action to provide rapid relief from rough sleeping is needed to turn this around,” the report stated.

Having a mental health problem can create the circumstances which can cause a person to become homeless in the first place. Yet poor housing or homelessness can also increase the chances of developing a mental health problem, or exacerbate an existing condition. In turn, this can make it even harder for that person to recover. It also makes it very challenging to develop good mental health, to secure stable housing, to find or maintain a job, to stay physically healthy and to maintain relationships.

The figures come amid concern about the growing number of homeless deaths and the lack of reviews into what has led to them. Out of the hundreds of deaths that have occurred in recent years, reports suggest only eight have resulted in a review.

The Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalists revealed earlier this year that 340 homeless people died on the streets or in temporary accommodation in the last six years, surging from 32 in 2013 to 78 in 2017. A further 59 deaths have been recorded so far this year, already more than the whole of 2016.

In the capital, the only place where a local authority records homeless deaths, 158 people died between 2010 and 2017, an average of one death a fortnight.

Experts and campaigners have warned that without official records, counts and reviews, it’s impossible to determine why so many homeless people are dying and design and take effective action to prevent future deaths. 

Howard Sinclair, the St Mungo’s chief executive, said: “This is nothing short of a national scandal. These deaths are premature and entirely preventable.”

Sinclair said that he welcomed the government Homeless Rduction Act set out by Sajid Javid to reduce the number of people sleeping rough. 

Though he added: “The forthcoming strategy presents a vital opportunity to make sure no one else dies as a result of sleeping rough. We are calling on the prime minister to follow through on her commitment to end rough sleeping by making sure all parts of the public sector play their part, especially the health, justice and welfare systems.”

The Homelessness Reduction Act received Royal Assent in April 2017 and will commence in April 2018. The Act places a new duty on local authorities to help prevent the homelessness of all families and single people, regardless of priority need, who are eligible for assistance and threatened with homelessness. 

Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said: “In 21st-century Britain, nobody should be dying on our streets, especially when there is clear evidence to show that rough sleeping – and all forms of homelessness – can be ended. 

“Homelessness is a devastating experience. People sleeping on our streets – who are experiencing the most visible form of homelessness – are exposed to everything from sub-zero temperatures, to violence, to debilitating illnesses. And all of these dangers puts them at serious risk of death.”

Back in 2016, Theresa May unveiled the £40 million package designed to prevent homelessness by intervening to help individuals and families before they ‘end up on the streets.’ It was claimed that the ‘shift’ in government policy will move the focus away from dealing with the consequences of homelessness and place prevention ‘at the heart’ of the Prime Minister’s approach. I criticised the approach at the time, as it was framed with a narrative of individualism, and was based on a considerable degree of political prejudice regarding the causes of homelessness, which positioned citizen ‘decision-making’ as a key factor. 

The Conservatives fail or refuse to recognise that many problems in wider society arise as a consequence of a prejudiced ideology that shapes political decision making, and that contributes significantly towards homelessness. These structural causes include a lack of affordable housing; high levels of poverty, low wages, the high cost of living, unemployment and underemployment; welfare cuts, punitive sanctions and problems with the way benefits system operates. Also, the way that social housing is rationed has a direct impact on levels of homelessness. 

In 2016, Sajid Javid, then Communities Secretary, announced that the Government will support reforms to England’s anti-homelessness laws and strengthen local authority duties to prevent people becoming homeless. But local authorities are already struggling to meet their statutory obligations because of years of underfunding because of the Conservatives’ ideological austerity.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill – a private member’s bill put forward by Conservative MP Bob Blackman – will place a duty on local authorities to help eligible people at risk of homelessness to secure accommodation, 56 days before they are threatened with eviction. However, councils have already expressed their concerns regarding delayed government code of guidance and funding on the Homelessness Reduction Act.

Announcing the Government’s support of the bill, Javid said: “No one should have to sleep rough on the streets. We want to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. That’s why we are determined to do all we can to help those who lose their homes and provide them with the support they need to get their lives back on track.

“This Government is therefore, very pleased to support Bob Blackman MP’s Private Members Bill, with its ambitious measures to help reduce homelessness.”

Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East, said he welcomed the Government’s decision. He added: “Throughout my 24 years in local government prior to becoming an MP, I saw the devastation that can be caused by homelessness first hand, with too many people simply slipping through the net under the current arrangements.

“By backing this bill, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to an agenda of social justice and also shows that it is willing to listen. I look forward to working with Ministers going forward in order to bring about this important change in legislation.”

The 2013 annual State of the Nation report by the charities Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) revealed that the number sleeping rough had risen by six per cent in England that year, and by 13 per cent in London. There has been a 10 per cent increase in those housed temporarily, including a 14 per cent rise in the use of bed and breakfast accommodation.

Writing just a year after the highly controversial Welfare Reform Act was ushered through the legislative process on the back of Cameron’s claim to the “financial privilege” of the Commons , the JRF report authors explicitly blamed the Government’s welfare cuts for compounding the problems caused by the high cost and shortage of housing as demand outstripped supply. The researchers found found that the cap on housing benefit made it more difficult to rent from a private landlord, especially in London, and claimed the controversial “bedroom tax” has caused a sharp rise in arrears for people in public housing, particularly in the Midlands and North.

A separate survey by Inside Housing magazine showed that councils and housing associations are increasingly resorting to the threat of eviction, as the loss of an adequate social security safety net is causing increasing hardship for social housing tenants. The reduction of council tax benefit for people who were previously exempt from paying council tax has also contributed significantly to experiences of material hardship, too. 

Ministers have emphatically denied that their reforms have contributed to the return of homelessness. However, homelessness has now risen in each of the years since the Tory-led coalition was formed – after falling sharply in the previous six years, and has continued to rise rapidly, since.

The government’s welfare policies have emerged as the biggest single trigger for homelessness now the economy has allegedly recovered, and are likely to increase pressure on households for the next few years, with the new benefit cap increasing the strain, according to the independent research findings in the Homelessness Monitor 2015, the annual independent audit, published by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The Homelessness Monitor study 2015 found:

  • Housing benefit caps and shortages of social housing has led to homeless families increasingly being placed in accommodation outside their local area, particularly in London. Out-of-area placements rose by 26% in 2013-14, and account for one in five of all placements.
  • Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax contributed to an 18% rise in repossession actions by social landlords in 2013-14, a trend expected to rise as arrears increase and temporary financial support shrink
  • Housing benefit cuts played a large part in the third of all cases of homelessness last year caused by landlords ending a private rental tenancy, and made it harder for those who lost their home to be rehoused.

The study said millions of people are experiencing  precarious circumstances because of “hidden homelessness”, including families forced by financial circumstances to live with other families in the same house, and people categorised as “sofa surfers” who sleep on friends’ floors or sofas because they have nowhere to live. 

At the same time, the Department for Work and Pensions also announced that it was cutting funding for homeless hostels and supported housing for disabled people by reducing supported housing benefit rent payments for three years. The homelessness reduction bill in the current policy context is yet another example of how Conservatives don’t seem to manage coherent, joined up thinking. 

Howard Sinclair, the chief executive of the homelessness charity St Mungo’s, said the cut would leave the homeless charity with £3 million a year less to spend on services. 

“The rent reduction will threaten the financial viability of some of our hostels and other supported housing schemes and offers no direct benefit to vulnerable tenants who mostly rely on housing benefit to cover their housing costs,” he said.

It’s just not good enough that the Government simply attempts to manipulate and colonise progressive rhetoric, claiming they ‘stand for social justice’, when they very clearly don’t walk the talk.

Conservative neoliberal “small state” anti-welfare policies are increasing homelessness. The bedroom tax, council tax benefit reductions, housing benefit reductions, welfare caps, sanctions, the deregulation of private sector, the selling off and privatising of social housing stock have all contributed to the current crisis of homelessness. 

It was particularly remarkable that May claimed the government are “doing the right thing for social justice” yet the Conservative policy framework is, by its very design, inevitably adding to the precariousness of the situations those people with the least financial security are in.

Affordable, accessible and safe accommodation brings stability and security; provides a gateway to access health services like GPs; enhances social and community inclusion; and provides the basis for the right to private and family life. A home is vital for good mental and physical health, allowing people to live in safety, security, peace and dignity.

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

Of course, there are numerous factors which can cause people to become homeless, many of which are beyond individual control, such as lack of affordable housing, disability and poverty. But what really needs to be highlighted is the two-way relationship between homelessness and mental health.

Government policies haven’t worked because they overlook the obvious. Despite Theresa May’s claims, the government tends to simply address the effects and not the real causes of homelessness. Unless the government actually address the growing inequality, poverty and profound insecurity that their own policies have created, then homelessness and absolute poverty will continue to increase.

Image result for homelessness reduction act

You can help a homeless person by contacting 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.

Related

Number of new social homes has plummeted by almost 90% under Tories

Don’t walk on by. We are better than this 

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

 


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