Tag: James Brokenshire

Housing Secretary admits government policies may have contributed to rising homelessness

brokenshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and often struggle to get by. If you want to, you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.

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