Tag: Homelessness

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

Related image

On Wednesday, I travelled down to Westminster to meet with John McDonnell, Margaret Greenwood, Mike Amesbury and Marsha de Cordova and a group of disability rights campaigners, journalists, researchers and organisations. One of the issues we discussed during the meeting was the harm and distress that the roll out of Universal Credit is creating for some of our citizens.

I got back from my trip to the Commons, arriving by train back in Newcastle around eleven, I missed the last bus back to Durham. Outside of the train station, I met Liam, a young homeless man, and his partner, Michelle.

Liam told me that the couple became homeless because of the inbuilt failure of Universal Credit to support people both in and out of work. Liam took some temporary work over last Christmas, and was promised that there would be full-time posts in the new year. However there was no full-time work available, and Liam explained that although they had claimed Universal Credit over this period, the couple didn’t receive any support at all. As the work was part-time and the pay was low, Liam and his partner ran up rent and council tax arrears very quickly, as they could not afford to meet their basic living costs. 

When Liam’s part-time work ended, he was told at the job centre that he had to start a new Universal Credit claim. Yet government ministers have assured us that this doesn’t happen. It was during this time that the couple ended up with arrears which led to their eviction. The housing association that the couple rented their flat from significantly pressured Liam into signing an eviction order that was effective immediately. The couple lost most of their belongings as well as their home. 

Liam told me “Once this happens, it is so hard getting out of the situation”. He explained to me that when they became homeless, the couple were told at the job centre that they could no longer claim any welfare support, because they have no fixed abode. (*See below.)

The situation has quickly spiralled downwards. Liam also said that many people are just one pay cheque away from homelessness, but they don’t realise that until it happens to them.

As Liam and Michelle are originally from another regional city, they cannot access  Newcastle Crisis for help. Michelle has PTSD, she cannot access any support for her mental health conditions, and Liam is understandably worried about her safety and mental wellbeing on the streets. It struck me how very much they both cared deeply for each other

I made sure they have some accommodation for tonight, at least. I’m not well off but gave them what I had. Liam told me he hasn’t slept for several nights, because he has to keep Michelle safe. They have to pay £15.50 for a temporary room for the night. That is the only available help they can access. As the couple cannot claim any welfare support, the fact that temporary accommodation costs them money, and of course they need to eat, leaves them with no choice whatsoever but to beg. They do access ‘People’s Kitchen’ in the city, too. But although it helps in providing food sometimes, it isn’t adequate provision for people who are homeless 24/7.

What struck me most about this couple is how friendly and humble they were, and that they are both such lovely people. One word that kept cropping up over and over in my dialogue with them was ‘invisible’. Our whole society looks the other way. Liam told me it is always assumed that homeless people are substance abusers, yet neither Liam nor Michelle drink alcohol or use drugs. It’s distressing enough to end up homeless without the additional prejudices and stigma attached to it. 

I also witnessed first hand how the local police are trying to clear the streets and prevent begging. They are prosecuting homeless people. I was asked by a policeman how long I was planning on interviewing Liam and Michelle, but what he really meant was ‘How long are you going to provide an excuse for them to be here?’ 

Often, anti-social behaviour powers are used to ban activities often associated with rough sleeping, and concerns have grown that an increase in the use of these powers is criminalising homelessness and is not addressing the root cause of the problem. 

Begging is also an offence under section 3 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 (as amended). It is a recordable offence. The maximum sentence is a fine at level 3 on the standard scale (currently £1000). I’m wondering how people that cannot afford a roof over their head and need to beg for food would manage to somehow produce money to pay a fine.

Other provisions also criminalise ‘begging behaviour’: wilfully blocking free passage along a highway is an offence contrary to section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 (as amended), punishable by a level 3 fine. Using threatening or abusive words or behaviour is an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which also carries a level 3 fine. 

Voluntary sector organisations have voiced concerns that the use of anti-social behaviour powers to tackle rough sleeping is criminalising homelessness and leaving vulnerable people in an even more marginalised position. According to Liberty, a Human Rights organisation, “PSPOs don’t alleviate hardship on any level. They are blunt instruments which fast-track so-called “offenders” into the criminal justice system”. Liberty has urged the Government to rethink these powers: “handing hefty fines to homeless people … is obviously absurd, counterproductive and downright cruel”.

There is also a concern that enforcement activity in one area simply displaces street activity to another geographical area, and can sometimes lead to the displacement of activity (e.g. from begging into acquisitive crime). Moreover, it does not address the underlying causes of rough sleeping.

There was a notice up on the train station door that said begging is illegal. Liam has been prosecuted twice under section 35, and a dispersal order was served on him, preventing him from returning to the area for 48 hours. The policeman was stiffly polite, but he hovered around waiting for me to leave, which was a little intimidating. I told him I would hold conversation with whoever I chose to. I felt that Liam and Michelle were being harassed.

It was a stark contrast to the experience of homeless people outside of King’s Cross station that I witnessed. While I was chatting to them, a charity group arrived with a table and some food, which was set up right outside. The policeman there was friendly with the homeless group and chatted to them, while they ate their meal. 

Prior to becoming homeless, Liam had no criminal convictions. Now he has been criminalised for begging because he is homeless. He also told me he stole food on one occasion from the shop Greggs because the couple were starving. They seldom have enough food to get by, and the impact of hunger on their health is a major concern. 

Health care for homeless people is a major public health challenge. Homeless people are more likely to suffer injuries and medical problems from their lifestyle on the street, which includes poor nutrition, exposure to the severe elements of weather, and a higher exposure to violence (robberies, hate crime, beatings, and so on). Yet at the same time, they have little access to public medical services or clinics, in part because they often lack identification or registration for public health care services. There are significant challenges in treating homeless people who have psychiatric disorders because clinical appointments may not be kept, their continuing whereabouts are unknown, their medicines may not be taken as prescribed and monitored, medical and psychiatric histories are not accurate, and for other reasons. 

Yet despite the fact that the couple have had no support at all, Liam has gone into the job centre and local library pretty much every day to look for work. He has finally found a painting and decorating job, which he starts on Monday.  Imagine just how difficult it is to do this without access to a regular bed, clean clothes and washing facilities.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 10 December 1948 by the UN General Assembly, contains this text regarding housing and quality of living:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

As a society, we seemed to have forgotten this fundamental human right in the punitive political era of citizen ‘responsibilities not rights’. But I have yet to see a homeless person successfully punished out of being homeless.

Prior to 1983, the term homeless implied that economic conditions caused homelessness. However, after 1983, under the neoliberal regime of Margaret Thatcher, conditions such as alcoholism and mental illness also became associated with the term in the media. This narrative was often backed up with testimony made by high-ranking Conservative officials. Yet one of the major causes of home;essness is a lack of sustainable employment and adequate wage levels.

This stigmatising approach rested on the notion that the people who are sleeping on the streets are those who are homeless by choice. I have no idea how this narrative of blaming the victims of neoliberalism gained traction, but somehow it has. It is being used to drown out the voices of those that have been failed by dismal neoliberal policies.

This claim – that homelessness is about ‘personal choice’ and an individual’s cognitive and  psychological condition, untethered it from the broader structural context, and in particular, from the New Right’s neoliberal reforms sweeping through the socioeconomic system. In the broader sense, it tended to portray homelessness as something that would exist even under the best economic conditions, and therefore independent of economic policies and economic conditions.

Homeless people may find it difficult to vote as they have no fixed address, they may not have identification documents, or a mailbox. However, equal access to the right to vote is crucial in maintaining a democracy. 

One effect of the political and media stigmatising and dehumanising project has been a total social exclusion. Homeless people experience a profound isolation. This gives the homeless community no say in how things are. Neither government nor wider society listen to them or consider their accounts of their experiences. 

Yet we can’t claim to live in a democracy when increasing numbers of citizens facing destitution and living in absolute poverty are excluded politically, economically, culturally and socially.

The only way that things will ever change for the better is if we do listen. And hear about the lived experiences of Liam, Michelle and the growing numbers of others who have been made destitute by a broken system.

Related image

*It’s important that people know they are still eligible for Universal Credit if they become homeless.

If you are told you are not at the job centre, you should challenge this.

“There is some confusion around whether or not homeless people can claim Universal Credit. 

“I would like to reassure people that support is available, and it’s incredibly important that people who are homeless – whether they’re rough sleeping, sofa surfing or living in temporary accommodation – should, and are able to, receive this support.

1. People can receive Universal Credit without an address

Usually when a person makes a claim for Universal Credit, they are asked to provide an address to register their claim to. 

If a person doesn’t have a fixed address they can register their hostel or temporary accommodation as their address, and if they’re rough sleeping they can use the job centre address.

2. People don’t need ID to receive Universal Credit

Undoubtedly, having ID makes the process of applying for Universal Credit simpler and quicker but in cases where a person doesn’t have ID, work coaches can use other methods to identify a person and help them make a claim.

This isn’t just for people who are homeless, but could be used in other situations as well, such as for people who have lost belongings in a fire or flood, or if they’re fleeing domestic violence.

3. You don’t need a bank account to receive Universal Credit

Having a bank account is important, and it makes it easier for people to make payments, manage money and get into work.

But we understand that a homeless person may not necessarily have a bank account. There are measures in place to make payments through other methods, including post office accounts or the Payment Exception Service, and a work coach can help people through the process of setting up a bank account when appropriate.

4. Finding a home is prioritised over finding work

You can ask Job centre staff to apply an ‘easement’ of up to one month, which means a person is not asked to look for work during this period and can focus on finding suitable accommodation. 

Work coaches have the discretion to extend the easement period further, depending on a person’s circumstances.”

If you are told that you can’t claim Universal Credit because you are homeless or have “no fixed abode”, tell the job centre advisor that:

Justin Tomlinson,has said you CAN. 

Liam and Michelle, if you are reading this, wishing you the very best, and good luck with your new job, Liam. Hoping that it will help you secure somewhere to live quickly. x

Related

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

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

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

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

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

 


I don’t make any money from my work. But 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. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

DonatenowButton

Sometimes satire is appropriate. Calling it ‘fake news’ isn’t

My last article was a lampoon of a real vigilante group that was established to hunt out ‘fake’ beggars and homeless people, taking photos of them to use on posters that name and shame them. The group have already ‘outed’ one genuinely homeless person, and have drawn much criticism from the police, charities and councils for their ill-conceived aims and methods. 

The characters I portrayed have made up names like ‘Mr Vinnie Dicktive’ and so on. The reference to phrenology and character divination is also a sideswipe at the government, as is the reference to ‘no causal link between ‘the homeless and homelessness’, but it also serves to highlight the bigotry, hypocrisy and downright irrationality of the vigilante group.

Image result for satire disgust at homelessness

Some people have expressed concern that my satire may be mistaken for ‘fake news’. However, I expect that most people can recognise a parody of a group and distinguish it from ‘fake news’. I occasionally write satire because sometimes, the best thing to do when confronted with those who are nasty, irrational, prejudiced and ridiculous is to ridicule them. I’m certainly not going to apologise for that.

My friend, Hubert Huzzah, has this to say about satire and ‘fake news’:

1) Fake News is bought, paid for and advances against the interests of the people it is aimed at.

2) Satire is created by [and for] the people who Fake News is aimed at. 

For those who don’t know me, my occasional bouts of satire fall into the latter category.

However, what really angers and upsets me about some of the responses to the latest article is this. The article I wrote just previously to the satirical piece was absolutely heartbreaking. It was so harrowing to write that I wept while I wrote it. The article was about two ill and vulnerable homeless citizens who died in sub-zero temperatures last week. Ben had been discharged from hospital, forced to return to a tent as his only shelter from the elements, after being treated for pneumonia. Rob had throat cancer, and was sleeping behind the shutters of an Argos store.

People expressed their ‘shock and surprise’ that these two poor and ill homeless citizens hadn’t survived Siberian weather conditions. I felt that those comments reflected a general public numbness and detachment to the terrible circumstances of homeless people, which horrified, appalled and disgusted me. And also made me very angry.

There is something really horrifically wrong with a so-called civilised, democratic society in a very wealthy country that abandons sick and disabled people, leaving them with no effective shelter or money on the streets in sub-zero temperatures. And there must be something missing from people who then express ‘shock’ and ‘surprise’ that their fellow citizens have died in those conditions.

I was accused of having ‘bad taste’, by one person. I pointed out that I am not part of the vigilante group going around harassing and photographing homeless people and making posters that claim they are somehow faking their homelessness. This group says that they will not invade the privacy of other citizens, by ensuring they aren’t captured on any of the photos, indicating clearly that they think homeless people have less right to respect and privacy than others. The point of my satirical article was to highlight the ‘bad taste’ , spite and prejudice of the ‘Killing with Kindness’ campaign. If it made you feel uncomfortable, well good, it was intended to.

Remarkably, my satirical piece has drawn more attention, response and anger than the previous very serious article about real people, in very real and unforgiving circumstances within the context of inhumane political and public indifference to the plight of our poor fellow citizens in this country.

Related image

Related

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

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

People are faking their homelessness and poverty for money, says petty urban bourgeousie

 


 

I’m disabled through an illness called lupus. I don’t make any money from my work. However, I do what I can, when I can, and in my own way. You can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you. 

DonatenowButton

People are faking their homelessness and poverty for money, says petty urban bourgeousie

A group of privileged vigilantes have called for councils across the nation to see off homeless people in order to protect the Tory-voting urban bourgeoisie from offense. Armed with posh Nikon cameras, a book on phrenology and a crystal ball, they have taken to the streets to try and catch out the millionaires who are scamming the public by dressing up in pauper rags and begging. 

“Some of these homeless people are rubbish at living in houses and are being incompetently hungry in full view of everyone,” says Mr Harris Mint.

“But we know a large number of them are Marxists and some are millionaires. Some of them are faking malnutrition and thinness. Whatever next. They should go and take their fake pauperism with them.

Mr Vinnie Dicktive, the group gossip and lead curtain twitcher, said Everyone here knows these people are really trying to make everyone else miserable. One man went to great lengths to get a stay in hospital after conning the paramedics into saying he had pneumonia, but we know he was faking it, and we took photos of the fake resuscitation. They even conned us by sticking a drip into his arm.

“The hospital said the fake tramp was in intensive care, but we know he sneaked into the canteen for some soup, really. We know the paramedics and hospital staff are Momentum supporters, so we took their photos and told them we would cross-reference them to deter them. We also got a good shot of the security guards who escorted us off the premises. Name and shame them, that’s what I say.” 

Another member of the vigilante group, Miss Ginger Vitis, said: “One thing these people don’t like is being photographed or filmed, so we’ve gone and done that. These anarcho- communist types, languishing in doorways and lolling brazenly on park benches are a real menace to one’s view. They’re driving property prices down by pretending to be hoboes. 

“We have identified who is genuine with the relevant charities and their names and if they are homeless or not. We’ve ask them their names, we then translate them into runic symbols then use the crystal ball and a phrenology book. Everyone knows these charities are scaremongers and that homeless people can’t be causally linked with homelessness.

“Five of the paupers we photographed have told us they won’t go begging anymore if we don’t put their wanted photo up around town. Or give out their names, which are Getty Stoffed, Doo Won, Lemmie Bee, Goa Way and his brother, Noah Way. Most of them sound like nasty foreigners. 

Mr Lemmie Attem, the group strategist said “Not a single one of them sang the national anthem or denounced terrorism while they dossed around town. And they all have commie beards.

“Of the 17 hoboes we photographed, only two were genuine street homeless. Our sophisticated scientific character divination methods worked a treat. Not a single one could prove that they didn’t have a house or some money and clean clothes stashed somewhere.” 

Many great philosophers have come unstuck trying to prove the existence of nothing, however.

“See, we said they weren’t real homeless people. These philosophers are all Corbyn supporters and are just playing smart because want to make the government look bad as can be,” said Mr Noah Hoomaniti, the charismatic leader, rune writer of the group and lifelong Conservative supporter.

Newest member of the character and lifestyle divination vigilante group, Mr Lou Smorals said “The solution is to send homeless people to live in landfills. That way, they can sort through the rubbish for decent cardboard boxes, no-one has to see them and people get to feel charitable every time they throw food away. It’s the most humanitarian thing to do all round.”  

I asked the group what they thought genuinely homeless people would do when the ‘beast from the east’ struck. 

“Well, we will have to barricade ourselves in”, said Mr Willie Eckerslike, the group phrenologist and clairvoyant.

“I personally voted leave, and I’m annoyed we still have to put up with these foreigners coming over here. It’s bad enough dealing with the fake homeless criminals without worrying about migrant sex offenders.


Related

‘Nasty’ campaign to out fake beggars will ‘not be welcome’ in Liverpool


I don’t make any money from my work.  But you can help by making a donation and enable me to continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability benefit assessment processes and appeals. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

DonatenowButton

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

Related image

A homeless man died tragically, earlier this week while sleeping rough in freezing temperatures in Nottinghamshire. He was known as Ben to locals, and had been sleeping in a tent near Saint Swithun’s Church in Retford. He was found in the early hours of Tuesday morning, as freezing temperatures swept across the county due to the ‘Beast from the East’ storm.

Police confirmed that they were made aware of a ‘sudden death’ near to the church by the ambulance services at 8.40am on Tuesday (February 27).

One local resident in the area, Kenny Roach, said he knew Ben well and had previously helped him out with money and food. 

“He contacted me last week just before he came out of hospital – he had pneumonia,” he said.

Two local scout leaders, Hazel and Kenny Newstead said they both knew Ben well.

“We’re so shocked and saddened by this. He seemed to be a lovely, friendly chap,” said Hazel.

He was living in a tent between a wall and the old church hall off Churchgate near our scout hut.

“He told us he was 53 and used to be a brickie – he even offered to re-do the brickwork on our building.

“We used to chat to Ben over the wall. He was happy here and didn’t want to go to a shelter in Worksop.”

Hazel said she and her husband had come across Ben a week or so ago, but understood that he was originally from the south and moved between Retford, Gainsborough and Worksop. His girlfriend had died tragically before he became homeless.

“He had a tent, sleeping bags and quilts, and we gave him tinned food because he said he had something to cook with. He used to hang his sleeping bags between the trees to air them,” Hazel said.

Roach added “He had had his stuff pinched so I arranged to meet up with him to give him some camping gear, money and food.

“He didn’t want something for nothing.

“Ben was quite comfortable where he was and didn’t want to go to Worksop. All he needed was a break. This is so sad.”

Worksop is just over 12 miles from Retford.

Roach said that Ben would search bins for items to sell in the town and would buy food with any proceeds he received. Roach had also offered him work with an upcoming project.

He was a grafter,” Roach said. “But he just needed somebody to give him a break. He couldn’t get a job because he didn’t have a home, he couldn’t get a home because he didn’t have a job, and he couldn’t get benefits because he didn’t have a home. It’s a vicious, vicious circle. People need to cut them some slack.” 

Councillor Simon Greaves, leader of Bassetlaw District Council, said :

We were all saddened to learn about this tragedy and had put provisions in place in an attempt to prevent something like this occurring.

“The Council has been providing a Severe Weather Night Shelter every night since Saturday, February 24 where anyone in Bassetlaw who is homeless can get out of the cold and into a warm and safe environment for the night.

“Severe Weather Night Shelters are set up when the outside temperature is set to drop below zero degrees centigrade for three consecutive nights.

Outreach Workers from Framework, the Council, the Police and a number of other agencies are in regular contact with people who are sleeping rough and have made them aware of the shelter.

“While the shelter is based at Crown Place Community Centre in Worksop, free transport has been offered to people known to be homeless, regardless of where they are currently living. Some people have taken up this offer and have used the shelter. Regrettably other individuals have made a personal choice to decline this offer.

“We are aware of between 15 and 20 people known to be sleeping in Worksop and around five people in the Retford area who are known to be homeless. We will be keeping the shelter open until at least Sunday night, and possibly longer, depending on the weather. Up until Wednesday evening the Shelter has been used by a total of 11 people since it opened last weekend.

“In terms of long-term provision for Homelessness, the council continues to work with the individuals concerned and the relevant agencies to place people in the most appropriate accommodation as well as work to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place.”

A file will now be put together to hand to the coroner.

It’s not clear if anyone had approached Ben regarding shelter provision, bearing in mind that he has been in hospital with pneumonia little over a week before he died. 

Hazel Newstead said “He had only been here for about a week. He said he had come out of hospital on 14 February, where he’d been treated for pneumonia. Before that I think he had been in another church sleeping in the door way.”

She added: “I can’t help wondering whether I could have done more personally – I’m disabled and limited physically, but the guilt is there, as there didn’t seem to be anywhere else for him to go.

“He was bothering nobody where he was. Probably hardly anyone knew he was there.”

Bassetlaw District Council opened a severe weather night shelter over the weekend but residents of Retford said it was 10 miles outside the town, which means some rough sleepers were unwilling to go there.

Following Ben’s death, local residents have set up their own homeless shelter to provide more accessible beds, as some homeless people in the area didn’t want to go to Worksop.

I spoke to a former worker from Framework – the local homeless service provider – who had worked in the area for seven years. She said “ Funding has been cut by more than 70% for Framework’s services in Nottinghamshire. Prior to 2010, there was a countywide street outreach team, Winter Night Shelters opened from December to the middle of March, plus various services offering longer term hostel and move on accommodation and tenancy support once people were in their own homes. We predicted that people would die as a result of those services closing. I’m heartbroken and full of rage that it’s happened.”

It’s difficult to believe that a person who had pneumonia was discharged from hospital into below freezing weather conditions with no shelter but a tent and sleeping bag. Surprisingly, some local people say they were shocked that the poor man had died.

Another man homeless man was found dead behind the shutters of an empty shop following one of the coldest nights of the year. Police and paramedics were called to the former Argos building in Chelmsford. The man was know locally as ‘Rob O’Conner’ had been living behind the shutters, he was found dead at the scene.

Aaron Smith, 27, who has been homeless for a year, said he found Rob’s body.

I was his only friend. We bed down together under the shutters,” he said.

“I was all he had. He was ill and had throat cancer.

“The bad weather didn’t help at all and it is picking us off one by one.

“When I found him he had one thin sleeping bag on.

Everyone has him wrong.

“He was a lovely bloke but because he couldn’t speak properly people had him wrong. He had throat cancer

“He was a good and loyal friend.”

Following the news of the death, a sign placed next to the Halifax bank was left in tribute to the man.

A tribute to Rob, a homeless man who was suffering from throat cancer, found dead in Chelmsford (Image: Essex Live/BPM Media)

Brian McGovern, Who runs the Rucksack Project, said: “This is something that the council were warned about.

“I did approach the council when we had a cold spell about opening up fire stations for them to sleep in.” Rob Saggs, executive director of the homeless charity CHESS said: “It’s devastating to hear that somebody has died on our streets in Chelmsford.

“I’m just devastated and quite shocked. What’s really sad about it is that we have been running a winter project that somebody like this could have been accessing, where it’s warm and comfy. It’s horrendous.”

A spokesperson for Chelmsford City Council said: “CHESS have confirmed that the winter project has extended their service until the end of March. They have just 10 bed  spaces at a local Church which rough sleepers can access each night. Sanctus is open for rough to get hot food and drink throughout the day.”  

Shortly after Rob’s death, tributes came in for the man described as a “good and loyal friend”. 

Rob’s death comes after one of the coldest nights of the year when the temperature in the Essex city dipped to a low of -1.7C at 4am.

It’s reported that his death is not being treated as suspicious. It should, however, be treated as an absolutely shameful national disgrace. Rob had throat cancer and was sleeping rough. Behind the shutters of an Argos shop. No-one would choose to live and die like this. 

Ben was discharged from hospital following treatment for pneumonia just over a week before he died, to sleep in a tent.

There is something very wrong with a society that leaves ill people without adequate shelter in sub-zero temperatures. People are apparently so shocked that this is happening right under their noses. 

However, it’s far too late to be shocked after the event of someone’s death.

We seem to have become a nation that is blind to the suffering of some of our most vulnerable citizens, to the point where we somehow think they have some sort of immunity to exposure and sub-zero temperatures. Until it kills them. 

Over the last seven years we have witnessed the return of absolute poverty in the UK because of Conservative welfare policies, austerity, low wages and insecure work. Absolute poverty is when people can’t afford to meet one or more of their basic survival needs as they don’t have an adequate income to eat, keep warm or afford shelter.

Welfare was originally calculated to meet people’s basic needs and to ensure that citizens did not have to live in absolute poverty. We were a society that believed that everyone has a right to life. However, since the Conservative government’s welfare ‘reforms’, the amount of support people have does not alleviate hardship nor does it adequately ensure that people can meet their basic survival needs. Furthermore, the punitive welfare sanction regime often leaves people without any income at all.

In one of the wealthiest nations in the world, people are dying because they have no home and because there is not an adequate safety net in place to help them when they so desperately need it.

I wept while writing this.

 

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.

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

Image result for homelessness in the snow uk

 

 

Related

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

 


I don’t make any money from my work, and as a disabled person, I have a limited income. But you can help by making a donation and enable me to continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability benefit assessment processes and appeals. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

I do have a roof over my head, however. If you know of someone who is homeless, I’d prefer that you help them first and foremost

DonatenowButton

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

Related image

I rarely venture into large retail areas and shopping centres. They make me feel unwell. I’m rather claustrophobic to begin with. I also have lupus, one of my symptoms is a quite extreme photosensitivity. The lighting in these places quite often triggers an attack of vertigo, nausea, incapacitating disorientation, co-ordination difficulties, muscle rigidity, temporary and severe visual distortions and a very severe headache.

However, I visited one recently with a friend, who was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping. He promised we would visit just two shops, and that our visit would be over quickly.

What struck me straight away is how much retail design is now just about revenue-producing. Shopping malls are unforgiving, soulless and unfriendly places. I was reminded of something I read by David Harvey, about the stark reality of shrinking, privatised and devalued public spaces. Neoliberal marketisation has manifested ongoing conflicts over public access to public space, where profiteering reigns supreme.

My experience of a shopping mall was deeply alienating and physically damaging. It brought with it a recognition of how some groups of people are being coerced and physically situated in the world – how citizens think and act is increasingly being determined by ‘choice architecture’ –  which is all-pervasive: it’s situated at a political, economic, cultural, social and material level. Hostile architecture – in all of its forms – is both a historic and contemporary leitmotif of hegemony. 

Architecture, in both the abstract and the concrete, has become a mechanism of asymmetrically changing citizens’ perceptions, senses, choices and behaviours – ultimately it is being used as a means of defining and targeting politically defined others, enforcing social exclusion and imposing an extremely authoritarian regime of social control. 

Citizens targeted by a range of ‘choice architecture’ as a means of fulfiling a neoliberal ‘behavioural change’ agenda (aimed at fulfiling politically defined neoliberal ‘outcomes’) are those who are already profoundly disempowered and, not by coincidence, among the poorest social groups. The phrase choice architecture implies a range of offered options, with the most ‘optimal’ (defined as being in our ‘best interest’) highlighted or being ‘incentivised’ in some way. However, increasingly, choice architecture is being used to limit the choices of those who already experience heavy socioeconomic and political constraints on their available decision-making options. 

The shopping mall made me ill very quickly. Within minutes the repulsive lighting triggered an attack of vertigo, nausea, co-ordination and visual difficulties. I looked for somewhere to sit, only to find that the seating was not designed for actually sitting on. 

Related image

The public seating that’s just a prop.

This radically limited my choices. In order to sit down to recover sufficiently to escape the building, the only option I had was to buy a drink in a cafe, where the seating is rather more comfortable and fulfils its function. I needed to sit down in order to muster myself to head for the exit, situated at the other end of the building. 

At this point it dawned on me that the hostile seating also fulfils its function. In my short visit, I had been ushered through the frightfully cold, clinical and unfriendly building, compelled to make a purchase I didn’t actually want and then pretty much rudely ejected from the building. It wasn’t a public space designed for me. Or for the heavily pregnant woman who also needed to sit for a while. It didn’t accommodate human diversity. It didn’t extend a welcome or comfort to all of its guests. The functions and comforts of the building are arranged to be steeply stratified, reflecting the conditions of our social reality. The only shred of comfort it offered me was conditional on making a purchase.

Image result for defensive architecture seating

When the purpose of public seating isn’t taking the weight off your feet and providing rest.

Urbanomics and the cutting edge of social exclusion: what is ‘defensive architecture’ defending?

Social exclusion exists on multiple levels. The distribution of wealth and power, access to citizenship rights and freedoms, political influence and consideration are a few expressions of inclusion or exclusion. It also exists and operates in time and space – in places. 

Our towns and cities have also increasingly become spaces that communicate to us who ‘belongs’ and who isn’t welcome. From gated communities and the rise of private policing, surveillance and security to retail spaces designed to fulfil pure profiteering over human need, our urban spaces have become extremely anticommunal; they are now places where an exclusive social-spatial order is being defined and enforced. That order reflects and contains the social-economic order.

Retail spaces are places of increasing psychological and sensual manipulation and control. Hostile architecture is designed and installed to protect the private interests of the wealthy, propertied class in upmarket residential areas and to protect the private profiteering interests of the corporate sector in retail complexes.

The very design of our contemporary cities reflects, directs and amplifies political and social prejudices, discrimination and hostility toward marginalised social groups. Hostile architectural forms prevent people from seeking refuge and comfort in public spaces. Places that once reflected human coexistence are being encroached upon, restrictions are placed on access and limits to its commercial usage, demarcating public and private property and permitting an unrestrained commodification of urban spaces and property.

In 2014, widespread public outrage arose when a luxury London apartment building installed anti-homeless spikes to prevent people from sleeping in an alcove near the front door. The spikes, which were later removed following the public outcry, drew public attention to the broader urban phenomenon of hostile architecture.

Anti-homeless spikes in London

Dehumanising ‘defensive architecture’ – ranging from benches in parks and bus stations that you can’t actually sit on, to railings that look like the inside of iron maidens, to metal spikes that shriek ‘this is our private space, go away’ – is transforming urban landscapes into a brutal battleground for the haves and socioeconomically excluded have-nots. The buildings and spaces are designed to convey often subtle messages about who is welcome and who is not.

Hostile architecture is a form of urban design that aims to prevent people from lingering in public spaces. The anti-homeless spikes here, for example, were installed to deter beggars and those sleeping rough.

Hostile architecture is designed and installed to target, frustrate deter and ultimately exclude citizens who fall within ‘unwanted’ demographics.

Although many hostile architecture designs target homeless people, there are also a number of exclusion strategies aimed at deterring congregating young people, many of these are less physical or obvious than impossibly uncomfortable seating, which is primarily designed and installed to prevent homeless people from finding a space to sleep or rest. However, the seating also excludes others who may need to rest more frequently, from sitting comfortably – from pregnant women, nursing mothers with babies and young children to those who are ill, elderly and disabled citizens.

Some businesses play classical music as a deterrent – based on an assumption that young people don’t like it. Other sound-based strategies include the use of high-frequency sonic buzz generators (the ‘mosquito device’meant to be audible only to young people under the age of 25.

Some housing estates in the UK have also installed pink lighting, aimed at highlighting teenage blemishes, and deterring young males, who, it is assumed, regard pink ‘calming’ light as ‘uncool’. There is little data to show how well these remarkably oppressive strategies actually work. Nor is anyone monitoring the potential harm they may cause to people’s health and wellbeing. Furthermore, no-one seems to care about the psychological impact such oppressive strategies have on the targeted demographics –  the intended and unintended consequences for the sighted populations, and those who aren’t being targeted.

                   Blue lighting in public toilets via Unpleasant Design

Blue lighting has been used in public toilets to deter intravenous drug users; the colour allegedly makes it harder for people to locate their veins. It was claimed that public street crime declined in Glasgow, Scotland following the installation of blue street lights, but it’s difficult to attribute this effect to the new lighting. Blue may have calming effects or may simply (in contrast to yellow) create an unusual atmosphere in which people are uncomfortable – actingout or otherwise. So questions remain about causality versus correlation. Again, no-one is monitoring the potential harm that such coercive strategies may cause. Blue light is particularly dangerous for some migraine sufferers and those with immune-related illnesses, for example, and others who are sensitive to flickering light. 

Hostile architecture isn’t a recent phenomenon

Charles Pierre Baudelaire wrote a lot about the transformation of Paris in the 1850s and 1860s. For example, The Eyes of the Poor captures a whole series of themes and social conflicts that accompanied the radical re-design of Paris under Georges-Eugène Haussmann‘s controversial programme of urban planning interventions.

Baron Haussmann was considered an arrogant, autocratic vandal by many, regarded as a sinister man who ripped the historic heart out of Paris, driving his boulevards through the city’s slums to help the French army crush popular uprisings. Republican opponents criticised the brutality of the work. They saw his avenues as imperialist tools to neuter fermenting civil unrest in working-class areas, allowing troops to be rapidly deployed to quell revolt. Haussmann was also accused of social engineering by destroying the economically mixed areas where rich and poor rubbed shoulders, instead creating distinct wealthy arrondissements.

Baudelaire opens the prose by asking his lover if she understands why it is that he suddenly hates her. Throughout the whole day, he says, they had shared their thoughts and feelings in the utmost intimacy, almost as if they were one. And then:

“That evening, feeling a little tired, you wanted to sit down in front of a new cafe forming the corner of a new boulevard still littered with rubbish but that already displayed proudly its unfinished splendors. The cafe was dazzling. Even the gas burned with all the ardor of a debut, and lighted with all its might the blinding whiteness of the walls, the expanse of mirrors, the gold cornices and moldings…..nymphs and goddesses bearing on their heads piles of fruits, pates and game…..all history and all mythology pandering to gluttony.

On the street directly in front of us, a worthy man of about forty, with tired face and greying beard, was standing holding a small boy by the hand and carrying on his arm another little thing, still too weak to walk. He was playing nurse-maid, taking the children for an evening stroll. They were in rags. The three faces were extraordinarily serious, and those six eyes stared fixedly at the new cafe with admiration, equal in degree but differing in kind according to their ages.

The eyes of the father said: “How beautiful it is! How beautiful it is! All the gold of the poor world must have found its way onto those walls.”

The eyes of the little boy: “How beautiful it is! How beautiful it is! But it is a house where only people who are not like us can go.”

As for the baby, he was much too fascinated to express anything but joy – utterly stupid and profound. 

Song writers say that pleasure ennobles the soul and softens the heart. The song was right that evening as far as I was concerned. Not only was I touched by this family of eyes, but I was even a little ashamed of our glasses and decanters, too big for our thirst. I turned my eyes to look into yours, dear love, to read my thoughts in them; and as I plunged my eyes into your eyes, so beautiful and so curiously soft, into those green eyes, home of Caprice and governed by the Moon, you said:

“Those people are insufferable with their great saucer eyes. Can’t you tell the proprietor
to send them away?”

So you see how difficult it is to understand one another, my dear angel, how incommunicable thought is, even between two people in love.”

I like David Harvey‘s observations on this piece. He says “What is so remarkable about this prose poem is not only the way in which it depicts the contested character of public space and the inherent porosity of the boundary between the public and the private (the latter even including a lover’s thoughts provoking a lover’s quarrel), but how it generates a sense of space where ambiguities of proprietorship, of aesthetics, of social relations (class and gender in particular) and the political economy of everyday life collide.”  

The parallels here are concerning the right to occupy a public space, which is contested by the author’s lover who wants someone to assert proprietorship over it and control its uses.

The cafe is not exactly a private space either; it is a space within which a selective public is allowed for commercial and consumption purposes.

There is no safe space – the unrelenting message of hostile architecture

What message do hostile architectural features send out to those they target? Young people are being intentionally excluded from their own communities, for example, leaving them with significantly fewer safe spaces to meet and socialise. At the same time, youth provision has been radically reduced under the Conservative neoliberal austerity programme – youth services were cut by at least £387m from April 2010 to 2016. I know from my own experience as a youth and community worker that there is a positive correlation between inclusive, co-designed, needs-led youth work interventions and significantly lower levels of antisocial behaviour. The message to young people from society is that they don’t belong in public spaces and communities. Young people nowadays should be neither seen nor heard.

It seems that the creation of hostile environments – operating simultaneously at a physical, behavioural, cognitive, emotional, psychological and subliminal level – is being used to replace public services – traditional support mechanisms and provisions – in order to cut public spending and pander to the neoliberal ideal of austerity and ‘rolling back the state’. 

It also serves to normalise prejudice, discrimination and exclusion that is political- in its origin. Neoliberalism fosters prejudice, discrimination and it seems it is incompatible with basic humanism, human rights, inclusion and democracy.

The government are no longer investing in more appropriate, sustainable and humane responses to the social problems created by ideologically-driven decision-making, anti-public policies and subsequently arising structural inequalities – the direct result of a totalising neoliberal socioeconomic organisation.

For example, homeless people and increasingly disenfranchised and alienated young people would benefit from the traditional provision of shelters, safe spaces, support and public services. Instead both groups are being driven from the formerly safe urban enclaves they inhabited into socioeconomic wastelands and exclaves – places of exile that hide them from public visibility and place further distance between them and wider society. 

Homelessness, poverty, inequality, disempowerment and alienation continue but those affected are being exiled to publicly invisible spaces so that these processes do not disturb the activities and comfort of urban consumers or offend the sensibilities of the corporate sector and property owners. After all, nothing is more important that profit. Least of all human need.

Homelessness as political, economic and public exile

Last year, when interviewed by the national homelessness charity Crisis, rough sleepers reported being brutally hosed with water by security guards to make them move on, and an increase in the use of other ‘deterrent’ measures. More than 450 people were surveyed in homelessness services across England and Wales. 6 in 10 reported an increase over the past year in ‘defensive architecture’ to keep homeless people away, making sitting or lying down impossible – including hostile spikes and railings, curved or segregated, deliberately uncomfortable benches and gated doorways.

Others said they had experienced deliberate ‘noise pollution’, such as loud music or recorded birdsong and traffic sounds, making it hard or impossible to sleep. Almost two-thirds of respondents said there had been an increase in the number of wardens and security guards in public spaces, who were regularly moving people on in the middle of the night, sometimes by washing down spaces where people were attempting to rest or sleep. Others reported noise being played over loudspeakers in tunnels and outside buildings.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said he had been shocked by the findings. He said: “It’s dehumanising people. If people have chosen the safest, driest spot they can find, your moving them along is making life more dangerous. 

“The rise of hostile measures is a sad indictment of how we treat the most vulnerable in our society. Having to sleep rough is devastating enough, and we need to acknowledge that homelessness is rising and work together to end it. We should be helping people off the streets to rebuild their lives – not just hurting them or throwing water on them.”

‘Defensive architecture’ is a violent gesture and a symbol of a profound social and cultural unkindness. It is considered, calculated, designed, approved, funded and installed with the intention to dehumanise and to communicate exclusion. It reveals how a corporate oligarchy has prioritised a hardened, superficial style and profit motive over human need, diversity, complexity and inclusion. 

Hostile architecture is covert in its capacity to exclude – designed so that those deemed ‘legitimate’ users of urban public space may enjoy a seemingly open, comfortable and inclusive urban environment, uninterrupted by the sight of the casualities of the same socioeconomic system that they derive benefit from. Superficially, dysfunctional benches and spikes appear as an ‘arty’ type of urban design. Visible surveillance technologies make people feel safe.

It’s not a society that everyone experiences in the same way, nor one which everyone feels comfortable and safe in, however.

Hidden from public view, dismissed from political consideration

Earlier this month, Britain’s statistics watchdog said it is considering an investigation into comments made by Theresa May following complaints that they misrepresented the extent of homelessness and misled parliament.

The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) confirmed that concerns had been raised after the prime minister tried to claim in Parliament that ‘statutory homelessness peaked under the Labour government and is down by over 50 per cent since then.’ Official figures show that the number of households in temporary accommodation stood at 79,190 at the end of September, up 65% on the low of 48,010 in December 2010. Liberal Democrat peer Olly Grender, who made the complaint, also raised concerns last year about the government’s use of the same statistics.

Grender said: “It seems particularly worrying, as we learn today of the increase in homelessness, that this government is still using spin rather than understanding and solving the problem.”

Baroness Grender’s previous complaint prompted UKSA to rebuke the Department for Communities and Local Government. The department claimed homelessness had halved since 2003 but glossed over the fact this referred only to those who met the narrow definition of statutory homelessness, while the overall number of homeless people had not dropped. 

May was accused of callousness when Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan recently raised questions about homelessness and the rise in food bank use. The prime minister responded, saying that families who qualified as homeless had the right to be found a bed for the night. She said: “Anybody hearing that will assume that what that means is that 2,500 children will be sleeping on our streets. It does not.

“It is important that we are clear about this for all those who hear these questions because, as we all know, families with children who are accepted as homeless will be provided with accommodation.”

Finger wagging authoritarian Theresa May tells us that children in temporary accommodation are not waking up on the streets.

However, Matthew Downie, the director of policy at the Crisis charity for homeless people, said: “The issue we’ve got at the moment is that it’s just taking such a long time for people who are accepted as homeless to get into proper, stable, decent accommodation. And that’s because local councils are struggling so much to access that accommodation in the overheated, broken housing market we’ve got, and with housing benefit rates being nowhere near the market rents that they need to pay.”

He said that while May highlighted a decline in what is categorised as ‘statutory homelessness’, rough sleeping had increased by 130% since 2010.

The category of ‘statutory homelssness’ has also been redefined to include fewer people who qualify for housing support.

Last year, 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 government’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.”

However, there are a few causes that the prime minister seems to have overlooked, amid the Conservative ritualistic chanting about ‘personal responsibility’ and a ‘culture of entitlement’, which always reflects assumptions and prejudices about the causal factors of social and economic problems. It’s politically expedient to blame the victims and not the perpetrators, these days. It’s also another symptom of failing neoliberal policies.

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 government seems to have completely overlooked the correlation between rising inequality and austerity, and increasing poverty and homelessness – which are direct consequences of political decision-making. Furthermore, a deregulated private sector has meant that rising rents have made tenancies increasingly precarious.

Last year, ludicrously, the Government backed new law to prevent people made homeless through government policy from becoming homeless. The aim is to ‘support’ people by ‘behavioural change’ policies, rather than by supporting people in material hardship – absolute poverty – who are unable to meet their basic survival needs because of the government’s regressive attitude and traditional prejudices about the causes of poverty and the impact of austerity cuts.

Welfare ‘reforms’, such as the increased and extended use of sanctions, the bedroom tax, council tax reduction, benefit caps and the cuts implemented by stealth through Universal Credit have all contributed to a significant rise in repossession actions by social landlords in a trend expected to continue to rise as arrears increase and temporary financial support shrinks.

Housing benefit cuts have played a large part in many cases of homelessness caused by landlords ending a private rental tenancy, and made it harder for those who lost their home to be rehoused.

The most recent National Audit Office (NAO) report on homelessness says, in summary:

  •  88,410 homeless households applied for homelessness assistance
    during 2016-17 
  • 105,240 households were threatened with homelessness and helped to remain in their own home by local authorities during 2016-17 (increase of 63%
    since 2009-10) 
  • 4,134 rough sleepers counted and estimated on a single night in autumn
    2016 (increase of 134% since autumn 2010)
  • Threefold approximate increase in the number of households recorded
    as homeless following the end of an assured shorthold tenancy
    since 2010-11
  • 21,950 households were placed in temporary accommodation outside the local
    authority that recorded them as homeless at March 2017 (increase
    of 248% since March 2011)
  • The end of an assured shorthold tenancy is the defining characteristic of the increase in homelessness that has occurred since 2010

Among the recommendations the NAO report authors make is this one: The government, led by the Department [for Housing] and the Department for Work and Pensions, should develop a much better understanding of the interactions between local housing markets and welfare reform in order to evaluate fully the causes of homelessness.

Record high numbers of families are becoming homeless after being evicted by private landlords and finding themselves unable to afford a suitable alternative place to live, government figures from last year have also shown. Not that empirical evidence seems to matter to the Government, who prefer a purely ideological approach to policy, rather than an evidence-based one. 

The NAO point out that Conservative ministers have not evaluated the effect of their own welfare ‘reforms’  (a euphemism for cuts) on homelessness, nor the effect of own initiatives in this area. Although local councils are required to have a homelessness strategy, it isn’t monitored. There is no published cross-government strategy to deal with homelessness whatsoever. 

Ministers have no basic understanding on the causes or costs of rising homelessness, and have shown no inclination to grasp how the problem has been fuelled in part by housing benefit cuts, the NAO says. It concludes that the government’s attempts to address homelessness since 2011 have failed to deliver value for money.

More than 4,000 people were sleeping rough in 2016, according to the report, an increase of 134% since 2010. There were 77,000 households – including 120,000 children – housed in temporary accommodation in March 2017, up from 49,000 in 2011 and costing £845m a year in housing benefit. 

Homelessness has grown most sharply among households renting privately who struggle to afford to live in expensive areas such as London and the south-east, the NAO found. Private rents in the capital have risen by 24% since the start of the decade, while average earnings have increased by just 3%.

Cuts to local housing allowance (LHA) – a benefit intended to help tenants meet the cost of private rents – have also contributed to the crisis, the report says. LHA support has fallen behind rent levels in many areas, forcing tenants to cover an average rent shortfall of £50 a week in London and £26 a week elsewhere.  This is at the same time that the cost of living has been rising more generally, while both in-work and out-of-work welfare support has been cut. It no longer provides sufficient safety net support to meet people’s basic needs for fuel, food and shelter. 

It was assumed when welfare amounts were originally calculated that people would not be expected to pay rates/council tax and rent. However, this is no longer the case. People are now expected to use money that is allocated for food and fuel to pay a shortfall in housing support, and meet the additional costs of council tax, bedroom tax and so on. 

Local authority attempts to manage the homelessness crisis have been considerably constrained by a shrinking stock of affordable council and housing association homes, coupled with a lack of affordable new properties. London councils have been reduced to offering increasingly reluctant landlords £4,000 to persuade them to offer a tenancy to homeless families on benefits.

Housing shortages in high-rent areas mean that a third of homeless households are placed in temporary housing outside of their home borough, the NAO said. This damages community and family ties, disrupts support networks, isolates families and disrupts children and you people’s education.

London councils are buying up homes in cheaper boroughs outside of the capital to house homeless families, in turn exacerbating the housing crisis in those areas. 

Polly Neate, the chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said: “The NAO has found what Shelter sees every day, that for many families our housing market is a daily nightmare of rising costs and falling benefits which is leading to nothing less than a national crisis.”

Matt Downie, the director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said: “The NAO demonstrates that while some parts of government are actively driving the problem, other parts are left to pick up the pieces, causing misery for thousands more people as they slip into homelessness.”

Meg Hillier MP, the chair of the Commons public accounts committee, said the NAO had highlighted a ‘national scandal’. “This reports illustrates the very real human cost of the government’s failure to ensure people have access to affordable housing,” she added. 

More than 9,000 people are sleeping rough on the streets and more than 78,000 households, including 120,000 children, are homeless and living in temporary accommodation, often of a poor standard, according to the Commons public accounts committee.

The Committee say in a report that the attitude of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to reducing homelessness has been ‘unacceptably complacent’.

John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, said: “This damning cross-party report shows that the Conservatives have caused the crisis of rapidly rising homelessness but have no plan to fix it.

“This Christmas the increase in homelessness is visible in almost every town and city in the country, but today’s report confirms ministers lack both an understanding of the problem and any urgency in finding solutions.

“After an unprecedented decline in homelessness under Labour, Conservative policy decisions are directly responsible for rising homelessness. You can’t help the homeless without the homes, and ministers have driven new social rented homes to the lowest level on record.”

Surely it’s a reasonable and fundamental expectation of citizens that a government in a democratic, civilised and wealthy society ensures that the population can meet their basic survival needs. 

The fact that absolute poverty and destitution exist in a wealthy, developed and democratic nation is shamefully offensive. However, Conservatives tend to be outraged by poor people themselves, rather than by their own political choices and the design of socioeconomic processes that created inequality and poverty. The government’s response to the adverse consequences of neoliberalism is increasingly despotic and authoritarian.

The comments below from Simon Dudley, the Conservative Leader of the Maidenhead Riverside Council and ironically, a director of a Government agency that supports house building, (Homes and Community Agency (HCA)) reflect a fairly standardised, authoritarian, dehumanising Conservative attitude towards homelessness.

Note the stigmatising language use – likening homelessness and poverty to disease – an epidemic. Dudley’s underpinning prejudice is very evident in the comment that homelessness is a commercial lifestyle choice, and the demand that the police ‘deal’ with it highlights his knee-jerk authoritarian response:

Dudley uses the word ‘vagrancy’, which implies that it is the condition and characteristics of homeless people who causes homelessness, rather than social, political and economic conditions, such as inequality, low wages, austerity and punitive welfare policies. The first major vagrancy law was passed in 1349 to increase the national workforce and impose social control following the Black Death, by making ‘idleness’ (unemployment) and moving to other areas for higher wages an offence. The establishment has a long tradition of punishing those who are, for whatever reason, economically ‘inactive’: who aren’t contributing to the private wealth accumulation of others.

The Vagrancy Act of 1824 is an Act of Parliament that made it an offence to sleep rough or beg. Anyone in England and Wales found to be homeless or begging subsistence money can be arrested. Though amended several times, certain sections of the original 1824 Vagrancy Act remain in force in England and Wales. It’s main aim was removing undesirables from public view. The act assumed that homelessness was due to idleness and therefore deliberate, and made it a criminal offence to engage in behaviours associated with extreme poverty. 

The language that Dudley uses speaks volumes about his prejudiced and regressive view of homelessness and poverty. And his scorn for democracy.

The 1977 Housing (Homeless Persons) Act restricted the homeless housing requirements so that only individuals who were affected by natural disasters could receive housing accommodation from the local authorities. This was partly due to well-organised opposition from district councils and Conservative MPs, who managed to amend
the Bill considerably in its passage through Parliament, resulting in the rejection of many  homeless applications received by the local government because of strict qualifying criteria.

For the first time, the 1977 Act gave local authorities the legal duty to house homeless people in ‘priority’ need, and to provide advice and assistance to those who did not qualify as having a priority need. However, the Act also made it difficult for homeless individuals without children to receive accommodations provided by local authorities, by reducing the categories and definitions of ‘priority need’. 

Use of the law that criminalises homeless people may generally include:

  • Restricting the public areas in which sitting or sleeping are allowed.
  • Removing the homeless from particular areas.
  • Prohibiting begging.
  • Selective enforcement of laws.

Murphy James, manager of the Windsor Homeless Project, branded Cllr Dudley’s comments ‘disgusting’ and described the Southall accommodation offered by the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead as ‘rat infested’. 

He said: “It shows he hasn’t got a clue. He has quite obviously never walked even an inch in their shoes.

“It is absolutely disgusting he is putting out such an opinion that it is a commercial life choice.”

James added the royal wedding should not be the only reason for helping people on the streets.

“I am a royalist but it should have zero to do with the royal wedding,” he said.

“Nobody in this country should be on the streets.” 

Dudley should pay more attention to national trends instead of attempting to blame homeless people for the consequences of government policies, as many in work are also experiencing destitution.

This short film challenges the stereoytypes that Dudley presents. This is 21st century Britain. But still there are people without homes, still people living rough on the streets, including some who are in work, even some doing vital jobs in the public sector, low paid and increasingly struggling to keep a roof over their heads. Central government doesn’t keep statistics on the ‘working homeless’. But we do know that overall the number of homeless people is once again on the rise.

Meanwhile, figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request by the Liberal Democrats from 234 councils show almost 45,000 people aged 18-24 have come forward in past year for help with homelessness. With more than 100 local authorities not providing information, the real statistic could well be above 70,000.

As Polly Toynbee says: “Food banks and rough sleeping are now the public face of this Tory era, that will end as changing public attitudes show rising concern at so much deliberately induced destitution.”

While the inglorious powers that be spout meaningless, incoherent and reactionary authoritarian bile, citizens are dying as a direct consequence of meaningless, incoherent and reactionary Conservative policies.

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But 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. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

DonatenowButton

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

Related image

It’s absolutely freezing here in the North East. There’s a sparkling, thick layer of frost outside of my window every morning and the road gritters are out around the village every night. In some parts of the county, temperatures as low as minus 7 have been reported.

It’s an awful and distressing thought that there are homeless people who will be fighting to survive hypothermia and worse at this time of year. But it’s far more awful and distressing for those who are facing homelessness. This dangerous, freezing weather kills people who are exposed outdoors very quickly, especially at night when shops and public buildings are closed and locked up. In 2017, in one of the wealthiest nations, the number of people who are homeless is increasing, and as a society, we’ve permitted that to happen.

Image result for homelessness in the snow uk

Research underlines the particular difficulties many councils will face finding accommodation for young people and families over the next two to three years. This is because of the severity of local authority budget cuts. There are serious concerns for single young people because of rising unemployment, benefit cuts and spiralling rents.

Two thirds of local authorities told us they expect it to be “much more difficult” to help 18-21 year olds access housing in the next few years. These concerns will be amplified by planned removal of entitlement to support with housing costs for many people in this age group. 

Once again this year’s Homelessness Monitor warns about ongoing welfare reforms with the discrepancy between Local Housing Allowance and rents highlighted as a significant barrier to council attempts to house homeless applicants.

An ongoing upward trend in officially estimated rough sleeper numbers remained evident in 2016, with the national total up by 132 per cent since 2010. The welfare cuts introduced in this decade, and those planned for introduction in the coming years, will
cumulatively reduce the incomes of poor households in and out of work by some £25 billion a year by 2020/21.

This is in a context where existing welfare cuts, economic trends, and higher housing costs associated with the growth of private renting have already increased poverty amongst members of working families to record levels.

Related image

Then there are the recently publicised failings of Universal Credit, which was designed to reduce welfare spending, rather than to improve support for people who need it. 

And it’s going to get worse. The welfare “reforms” announced in the summer 2015 Budget and Autumn Statement will have particularly marked consequences both for families with more than two children, and for young single people.

These groups will either potentially be entirely excluded from support with their housing costs (if 18-21 and not subject to an exemption), or subject to Shared Accommodation Rate limits on eligible rents in the social as well as the private rented sector. Consequently, these are the groups that local authorities report greatest difficulty in rehousing.

More than 300,000 people in Britain – equivalent to one in every 200 – are officially recorded as homeless or living in inadequate homes, according to figures released by the charity Shelter. Using official government data and freedom of information returns from local authorities, it estimates that 307,000 people are sleeping rough, or accommodated in temporary housing, bed and breakfast rooms, or hostels – an increase of 13,000 over the past year.  However, Shelter say that this is likely to be an underestimation

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s shocking to think that today, more than 300,000 people in Britain are waking up homeless. Some will have spent the night shivering on a cold pavement, others crammed into a dingy hostel room with their children. And what is worse, many are simply unaccounted for.

“On a daily basis, we speak to hundreds of people and families who are desperately trying to escape the devastating trap of homelessness. A trap that is tightening thanks to decades of failure to build enough affordable homes and the impact of welfare cuts.”

Although public perceptions of homelessness are dominated by rough sleeping, Shelter points out that the single leading cause of recorded homelessness is the ending of a private tenancy, accounting for three in every 10 cases, and often triggered by a combination of soaring rents and housing benefit cuts.

A National Audit Office (NAO) inquiry in September criticised the government for failing to get a grip on homelessness, despite recorded numbers of homeless people rising every year since 2010. The NAO said local housing allowance cuts helped fuel the crisis, which cost us around £1bn a year.  

One in five young people in the UK have sofa-surfed in the past year and almost half of them have done so for more than a month. In a country that is among the wealthiest in the world, how can this be possible?

Related image

report by the London Assembly housing committee on hidden homelessness is a timely reminder of an issue that goes unseen by most of the public and by many local and national politicians. 

However, 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.

Image result for homelessness in the snow uk

The thing is, we must do something. We must not become desensitised to the fact that so many people are struggling to survive. Shelter is one of our most fundamental survival needs, and it’s shameful that people in the UK cannot meet their most basic needs. It’s not enough to simply spare a thought. That doesn’t save lives, unless we act on those thoughts.

Related image

Please don’t just walk on by.

 


 

I’m disabled through an illness called lupus. I don’t make any money from my work. However, I do what I can, when I can, and in my own way. You can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you. 

DonatenowButton

Government rebuked again for misusing statisics – this time on homelessness

1235473_537097386359794_65317730_n (1)
Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Rosalind Grender, has submitted a formal complaint to the UK Statistics Authority about the government’s misuse of homelessness statistics in press notices and parliamentary debates.

In a letter responding to her concerns, Ed Humpherson, the Authority’s director general, said he agreed with her complaint. He described the Department’s use of the figures as “disappointing” and that it was “potentially misleading” to the public.

It’s not the first time the government has been reprimanded officially, for trying to mislead the public. Who could forget David Cameron being rebuked by the statistics watchdog over national debt claims – The PM said the government was “paying down Britain’s debts” in a political broadcast, even though the debt was rising (and continues to increase).

Then there was Iain Duncan Smith’s unforgettable misuse of benefit statistics – he was rebuked by Office for National Statistics (ONS) for his claim that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the benefit cap which was found to be “unsupported by the official statistics.” 

Later in that same month, Duncan Smith also drew criticism and a reprimand for claiming around 1 million people have been “stuck on benefits” for at least three of the last four years “despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work”. However, the figures cited also included single mothers, people who were seriously ill, and people awaiting assessment.

Anyone would think that the Conservatives are trying to hide the damaging consequences of their draconian policies. (See: The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control.) 

The UK Statistics Authority disputed figures announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which claimed last year that homelessness had been more than halved since 2003.

However, the government’s claim was based on a very narrow statutory definition of homelessness which included only those who authorities are obliged to help. The number did not take into account homeless people who were given assistance under other schemes.The overall number of people facing homelessness has not dropped. The government also did not explicitly include the statutory homelessness definition in parliamentary debates in the House of commons and Lords, or in press releases.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We’re aware of the issue raised and have taken steps to make sure this does not arise in future.”

Baroness Grender welcomed the finding saying that the Government “has been caught out playing a numbers game, rather than accepting there is a problem, and getting on with the important work of finding solutions”.  

“It is time to stop spinning the statistics and start solving the problem,” she said.

 

Looks like my list from 2014  – A list of official rebukes for Tory lies – needs updating.

 

Related

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

Labour Party To Refer Groundless Iain Duncan Smith Claim To Statistics Watchdog Again

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But 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. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

DonatenowButton cards

 

 

Report on the UK Government’s failing human rights record submitted to UN

humanrights-01.jpg

coalition of 175 civil society organisations has raised grave concern about the impact of the government’s welfare “reforms” and living standards in the UK, hate crimes, mental health, deteriorating prison conditions, stop and search powers and the Conservative’s plans to repeal the Human Rights Act, among other issues. The organisations include Age UK, Just Fair, Inclusion (London and Scotland), the TUC, Unicef UK, Rights Watch, The Law Centres Network, Mind, the Mental Health Foundation and Stonewall. 

The coalition contributed to a report which calls on the United Nations (UN) to recognise the evidence from the wide range of civil society groups and to ensure the UK Government, and the devolved administrations, are accountable for taking appropriate action and measures to redress many raised human rights concerns. The report authors caution that a high proportion of the 132 recommendations from the last United Nations hearings in 2012 have not been implemented.

The British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) announced the launch of the Joint Civil Society Report, on the 22 September. It was submitted to the United Nations in Geneva last Thursday as part of the Universal Periodic Review of the UK. 

The report was produced as part of Human Rights Check UK project, which has been assessing human rights changes since the UK was last reviewed by the UN in 2012. BIHR have engaged with over 175 organisations across England, Scotland and Wales through both a call for evidence and by hosting a series of events across Great Britain. These groups range from local community advocacy groups to large national organisations, working on issues such as health, age related issues, children’s issues, justice, education, welfare and many others.

Many of the issues and concerns raised in this report of 84 pages have been under-reported in the mainstream media.

The human rights framework in the UK is being eroded

A key theme throughout the evidence received are serious concerns regarding the proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act. Civil society organisations were worried that a new Bill of Rights would offer weaker human rights protections, particularly impacting the most vulnerable members of society.

The report says repeal of the act would be a “denigration of international human rights law.” It also says in the submission: “The UK’s retrogressive debates are already negatively influencing other countries. There is increasing concern that the UK’s political rhetoric will, if not checked, threaten the coherence and credibility of the post-second world war human rights settlement.”

The report also says: The rhetoric in national media and among senior officials often repeatedly misrepresents and misreports judicial cases, “blaming” human rights laws for situations/decisions which are about other laws or are only partially about human rights (often centring on groups considered “unpopular” or “undeserving”). When the Human Rights Act has positively supported people, this is rarely discussed.

It is vital that the UK Government guarantees it will build upon the Human Rights Act, rather than amending or repealing it via a new bill of rights. Refusal to give such a guarantee should be recognised as an indication that there is a significant risk of the human rights framework in the UK being eroded.”

These are all concerns that I have raised myself over the last two years, along with many other campaigners.

Other key issues raised were related to growing poverty and inequality across the UK as a result of welfare “reforms” and austerity measures. The report reflects the damaging impact that Conservative policies are having on a number of human rights issues, including access to justice, children and women’s rights and the right to an adequate standard of living. These are problems and themes which many of us have been campaigning and writing about for the last four or five years.

Social security no longer alleviates poverty and homelessness

Many concerns were raised about the impact of the welfare cuts, growing poverty and an inadequate standard of living in the UK. The report said that recent policy and legislative changes have seen a regression in standards of living and the welfare system’s ability to tackle poverty, homelessness and unemployment. Many organisations reported that this is having a negative impact on marginalised social groups, among which are some of our most vulnerable citizens. 

For example, the abolition of disability premiums may result in 100,000 disabled children losing up to £28 a week. Changes to personal allowances will leave single parents with severe disability needs with £73 less a week. There was recognition of the discriminatory impact of the bedroom tax on disabled adults and children, carers, domestic violence victims, separated parents and others.

The benefit cap disproportionately impacts on single parents, children and BME groups. The Supreme Court ruled that the cap violates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child  (UNCRC) but did not overturn the policy. The UK Government has further reduced the cap to £20,000 per annum for households outside of London and £23,000 for those within Greater London through the Welfare Reform Work Act 2016, affecting 92,000 more households.

The report also said that benefit sanctions have significantly increased and that evidence strongly suggests links to rising destitution and food bank use. Many people have received sanctions in “error”. The authors pointed out that there is no empirical evidence that sanctioning is in any way effective in “getting people back to work”. 

It was also noted that the government claim to have introduced a National Living Wage in 2016, to increase minimum wage to over £9 per hour by 2020. This does not apply to those under 25. Rates are not set in accordance with recommendations from the Living Wage Foundation.

Further concerns raised are freezes to working-age benefits for four years from April 2017, the removal of the Child Tax Credit entitlement for third or subsequent children born after 6 April,  repeal of the Child Poverty Act 2010. Although the Government will publish child poverty data, there are no longer statutory targets or a duty to report.

The report authors also acknowledged that there been an unprecedented rise in the use of food banks, and several submissions directly related this to welfare cuts and austerity measures. One million people were provided with 3 days of emergency food in 2015/16. 

It was noted that the Parliamentary committee recently (2015) assessed the impact of the Equality Act 2010 on disability discrimination, concluding it was unsatisfactory. Particular issues raised in evidence submissions include: the significant and disproportionate impact of welfare cuts on disabled people, e.g. Work Capability Assessments have seen many disabled people incorrectly assessed as fit for work; concerns about the portrayal of disabled people as “benefit scroungers”, perpetuated by some sections of the media and political leaders, and new tribunal fees being a disincentive to bringing discrimination cases forward. 

There was also widespread concern expressed that cuts to legal aid have impacted on the most disadvantaged groups in society, deterring potentially successful legal cases and challenges, and removing sources of advice and support. There is a disproportionate impact on women, children, BME communities, disabled people and people living in poverty.

Among the recommendations made:-

The UK government should:

  •  Monitor and review the impact of welfare reforms on living standards, increased poverty and food insecurity, and work to break the link between welfare support and poverty
  •  Pause and review its sanctioning policy, ensuring no person is pushed in to destitution
  •  Abolish the spare room subsidy since it causes destitution and has not served its purpose
  •  Reconsider changes to child poverty policy and ensure no child is living  in poverty
  •  Create a living wage that accurately reflects the cost of living within the UK

Among other human rights failings, the report highlights the fact that race is the most commonly recorded motivation (82%) for hate crimes in England and Wales and that the Brexit vote coincided with a surge in such offences. It links reports on the government’s policy of creating a “hostile environment” for migrants with discrimination against those from minority communities. It’s true that political and media rhetoric about migration is loaded with dehumanising metaphors.

Mental health service funding cuts and government policies are having negative impacts on vulnerable people

Evidence submitted highlighted a number of serious issues, including:

  • The underfunding of mental health services, resulting in just 25% of people receiving help.
  • In England, funding for mental health trusts has dropped in real terms by 8.25% since 2010.
  • Shortfalls in services have resulted in the police responding to people in crisis. In 2014-15, in England and Wales, the police picked up 23,128 people in mental health crisis and 4,537 were taken to a police cell because there was no other safe place available (although this is down from the previous year).
  •  Patients being placed in units far away from their home and support networks as a result of closing in-patient units. In 2015-16, 5,411 patients were sent ‘out of area’.
  •  The disparity across the UK in accessing talking therapies. In 2014-15, 33% of people in England waited longer than 28 days to start treatment following referral and 7% longer than 90 days. In Wales, data shows 57% of people waited over three months for an assessment and their first session.
  •  Concern that legal protections for people with mental capacity issues are not sufficient, including that the Mental Capacity Act and the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards in England and Wales are no longer fit for purpose (the Law Commission is reviewing both) and that the Adults with Incapacity Act in Scotland is not compatible with human rights standards.

Trade Unions and charities have been systematically disempowered

Serious concern was expressed that recent legislation has introduced unjustified, disproportionate and discriminatory restrictions on trade unions activities. The Trade Union Act 2016 sets statutory thresholds and substantial new legal hurdles which unions must overcome to take lawful industrial action in defence of their jobs, livelihoods, wages and working conditions.

The “Lobbying Act” has created additional layers of regulation for charities and Trade Unions, already subject to rules on political activities. The Lobbying Act’s chilling effect has been reported across jurisdictions. Research found 63% of charity respondents said the Act will make it harder to achieve their charitable objectives.

The recent Hodgson Review concluded that the Act did not strike the right balance. The UK Government has yet to respond to the report’s recommendations.  CSOs are also critical of UK Government proposals to introduce an “anti-advocacy clause”, restricting organisations that receive public money from lobbying Government.

There are concerns about flawed research underpinning the proposal and its impact on civil society organisations (CSOs) being able to amplify community voices with the State. This has implications for democracy.

The Trade Union Act 2016 sets statutory thresholds and substantial new legal hurdles which unions must overcome to take lawful industrial action in defence of their jobs, livelihoods and working conditions.

There is widespread concern about the impact of the UK referendum to leave the European Union on human rights. Whilst the Human Rights Act is separate from the EU, a number of other rights-based standards emanate from the EU, including equality and employment law standards. 

Stephen Bowen, the chief executive of BIHR, said: “The UK government needs to listen, not just to the United Nations but to the voices of the huge range of organisations closer to home that have shared their serious concern. They are troubled the government is taking the UK towards further isolationism and disregarding the United Nations, worsening the situation with welfare and legal aid cuts, and wanting to scrap the Human Rights Act, weakening its accountability for our rights at home as well as internationally.”

The report was launched on 22 September at Westminster, with contributions from Sir Nicolas Bratza (Chair of BIHR, and former president of the European Court of Human Rights), David Isaac CBE (Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission), the Rt Hon. Harriet Harman QC MP (Chair of the Joint Committee of Human Rights) and BIHR deputy director, Sanchita Hosali.

Harriet Harman, welcomed the report for its breadth and depth, and said she would be raising the issues explained with the Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, when she appears at the JCHR next month. Harriet spoke about how the UK level government debates on human rights were leading to a corrosion of rights domestically, and undermining the core principle of universalism. 

She spoke of how the UK needs to recognise and celebrate, not disparage, international accountability, whether that be at the UN or the European Court of Human Rights. Yet the contrast between what the UK Government says domestically versus what is said at the UN can be like “hearing two different administrations.”

Director, Stephen Bowen, conveyed whole-hearted thanks to the 175+ organisations that have helped shape BIHR’s report, to root it in the very real and pressing issues many people in the UK face in ensuring their universal human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. The breadth and depth of organisations involved is a testament to how significant human rights are in the UK.

 

images


I don’t make any money from my work. 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.

DonatenowButton cards

%d bloggers like this: