Tag: Crisis

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.

 

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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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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I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and often struggle to get by. If you want to, 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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

 


I write voluntarily, to do the best I can to raise awareness of political and social issues. In particular I research and write about how policy impacts on citizen wellbeing and human rights.

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled and don’t have any paid employment. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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

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Theresa May’s ritualistic Tory chanting: “getting people’s lives back on track”

Earlier this month, Theresa May surprisingly unveiled a £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. 

Writing in the Big Issue magazine – sold by homeless people – May said: “We know there is no single cause of homelessness and those at risk can often suffer from complex issues such as domestic abuse, addiction, mental health issues or redundancy.”

“So I believe it’s time we changed our approach. We can no longer focus on tackling the symptoms and immediate consequences of homelessness. We need to put prevention at the heart of a new approach.

“As a first step towards this change, I’m announcing a new £40 million package to both prevent and tackle the causes of homelessness. This will include £20 million for local authorities to pilot innovative initiatives to tackle the causes of homelessness – helping to find solutions for families and individuals before they reach crisis point.”

Earlier this year it was revealed that under David Cameron’s administration homelessness in England had risen by 54 per cent since 2010

This reflected the sixth consecutive annual rise, with households becoming homeless in London increasing to 17,530 (9 per cent) in the last year alone and 58,000 households across the whole of England.

That’s during six consecutive years of the Conservatives in Office, and six years of savage austerity measures that target the poorest citizens disproportionately, by coincidence.

Or by correlation.

There are a few causes that the prime minister seems to have overlooked, amidst the Conservative ritualistic chanting which reflects assumptions and prejudices about the “causal” factors of social problems and a narrative of individualism. It’s a curious fact that wealthy people also experience “complex issues” such as addiction, mental health problems and domestic abuse, but they don’t tend to experience homelessness and poverty as a result. 

The deregulated private sector and increasingly precarious tenancies

“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.”

Crisis, the national charity for homeless people, welcomed the Government’s commitment but warned that unless “MPs [need to] offer their support at the bill’s second reading on Friday, this historic opportunity could easily be lost”.

Jon Sparkes, the charity’s chief executive, added: “This is a credible and much-needed piece of legislation which now has the backing of the Government, the opposition and the Communities and Local Government Select Committee. The cross-party consensus is there, and we hope that MPs from across the political spectrum will come together on October 28 to vote on the bill.

“Helping people to stay off the streets and rebuild their lives is about basic social justice – it’s the right thing to do – but it also makes good economic sense. New research from Crisis has revealed how preventing 40,000 people from becoming homelessness could save the public purse up to £370m a year, or just over £9,000 per year for every person helped. The logic is clear: preventing homelessness saves lives, but also reduces public costs.

“For 40 years we’ve had a system that fails too many homeless people and turns them away at their time of need. The Homelessness Reduction Bill could help put an end to that injustice once and for all. It is a major opportunity to improve the rights of people currently shut out of the system, whist continuing to protect families with children.”

Lord Porter, the chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents councils and had opposed an earlier draft of the Bill, said granting councils the ability to build homes would be a more effective step towards ending homelessness and the housing crisis in general.

“Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can within existing resources to prevent and tackle it. However, there is no silver bullet, and councils alone cannot tackle rising homelessness. The causes of homelessness are many and varied and range from financial to social,” he said.

“After having worked closely with Bob Blackman, we are confident that the new Bill, if it does go through Parliament, will be in a better place.

“However, it is clear that legislative change alone will not resolve homelessness. If we are all to succeed, then all new duties proposed in the Bill will need to be fully funded. Councils need powers to resume our role as a major builder of affordable homes.”

The shortage of housing and the impact of the Government’s welfare “reforms”

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 this 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 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 five years since the Coalition was formed – after falling sharply in the previous six years, and has continued to rise throughout 2016.

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 housing minister, Kris Hopkins, said the study’s claims were “misleading”. Local authorities had “a wide range of government-backed options available to help prevent homelessness and keep people off the streets,” he said.

“This government has increased spending to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, making over £500m available to local authorities and the voluntary sector,” he added.

It hasn’t worked. This is because, 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.

Hopkins added that the government had provided Crisis with nearly £14m in funding to help about 10,000 single homeless people find and sustain a home in the private rented sector.

Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Homelessness can be catastrophic for those of us who experience it. If we are to prevent a deepening crisis, we must look to secure alternatives to home ownership for those who cannot afford to buy: longer-term, secure accommodation at prices that those on the lowest incomes can afford.”

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 says millions of people are experiencing “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.

Official estimates of  the numbers of people sleeping rough in England in 2013 were 2,414 – up 37% since 2010. But the study’s estimates based on local data suggest that the true figure could be at least four times that.

The Department for Work and Pensions also announced last month 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. 

“The Government’s proposals will compromise the right for people with a learning disability to live independently, and must be reconsidered urgently,” Dan Scorer, head of policy at the learning disabilities charity Mencap, warned after the announcement.

Meanwhile 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 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.

Someone should explain to the prime minister that “social justice” doesn’t generally entail formulating predatory policies that ensure the wealthy accumulate more wealth by dispossessing the poorest citizens of their public assets, civilised institutions and civilising practices gained through the post-war settlement.

Devolving responsibility for the housing crisis and lack of adequate social security provision to local authorities that are already strapped for cash because of government cuts, and with an ever-dwindling housing stock, won’t help to address growing inequality, or alleviate poverty and destitution.

letter-to-a-homeless-person

Related

From homes fit for heroes to the end of secure, lifelong social housing tenancies

Update

Let’s Pressurise MP’s To Attend the Vote On the ‘Once In a Lifetime Homelessness Bill’ – template letter to MPs, courtesy of the Dorset Eye


 

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