Can you name the Minister for Homelessness? I couldn’t.

Earlier today I wrote about the prediction that the number of people who are rough sleeping would increase by 76% by 2026, having already doubled since 2010.

I called for the appointment of a Minister for Rough Sleeping who would focus exclusively on the issue and not be reshuffled until the next general election.

I have been reminded by a colleague that there is already a Minister for Homelessness although neither my colleague or I could name her/him. To be honest I didn’t even know there was such a post – clearly the best kept secret in Westminster.

Google told me that it’s the Minister is Marcus Jones, as I am sure you all already knew. Apologies for my ignorance. He is a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Local Government) and he is responsible for:

  • Local government policy, including local government reform
  • Local government finances (including local authority sustainability and business rates retention)
  • Adult social care
  • Local government interventions policy and oversight of existing interventions
  • Local government pensions
  • Troubled Families
  • Supported housing
  • Parks and green spaces

And in his spare time he is responsible for homelessness, that is all homelessness which includes the:

  • 9,100 people sleeping rough,
  • 68,300 households sofa surfing
  • 19,300 households living in unsuitable temporary accommodation
  • 37,200 households living in hostels
  • 26,000 households living in other circumstances, including 8,900 households sleeping in tents, cars or on public transport, 12,100 households living in squats, and 5,000 households in women’s refuges or winter night shelters.

I am so reassured that we have a Minister who can give the necessary focus to the issue of rough sleeping.

What’s his name again ….?

Rough sleeping has doubled since 2010, predicted to increase by a further 76%

The stock response from government, local and national, when challenged about a current or impending problem, is to say how much money it is spending to resolve the matter.

This is true about the rough sleeping crisis. The number of people sleeping rough has doubled since 2010, according to a report in the Financial Times in January. And today (10th August 2017), the national charity, Crisis, has forecast that rough sleeping will rise by a further 76% by 2026. (This forecast is based on research conducted on behalf of Crisis by Heriot-Watt University).

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “Alongside investing £550 million to 2020 to address the issue, we’re implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act, which will require councils to provide early support to people at risk of becoming homeless. There’s more to do and ministers will set out plans shortly.”

It is easy for someone to quote eye-watering sums but given the track record since 2010 we need something that will inspire confidence. The doubling in rough sleeping numbers is a direct result of government policies. I look forward to the government’s plans being published. The plans need to be more than worthy statements of intent.

The government’s plans need to be SMART. They need to set out specific measures that will be implemented, what difference these measures will make, and when the positive impact will be seen. A vague date like 2026 is no good. Most of the Ministers around today will not even be a footnote in history by 2026.

I would suggest, amongst other things, the following:

  • The appointment of a Minister for Rough Sleeping who will remain in her/his post until the next general election so they can be judged on their record
  • Properly fund local authorities to meet their homelessness duties
  • Reverse the drop in investment for affordable homes, specifically homes that will be made available to homeless households and individuals
  • Reverse the cuts to housing benefit
  • Reintroduce direct housing benefit payments to landlords to build confidence especially in the private rented sector
  • Put funding for homelessness services on a proper footing,

It should shame us all, not least those in power, that rough sleeping numbers have doubled since 2010. Today’s report from Crisis should shame government into urgent action.

Real Life Stories: How First Base Day Centre helped Joe off the streets

Many of the people we are seeing are new to rough sleeping, like Joe who was helped by First Base Day Centre.  This is his story:

“When Joe first came into our service, he had never before been in the position of rough sleeping.  He was 45 years of age, had worked fairly consistently and always had friends or partners he could rely on if work dried up and he found himself in between jobs.  The recession had meant that he had faced a longer period of not working, his relationship had succumbed to stress and he found himself sleeping on the beach.

“Joe had made a claim for Job Seekers Allowance, but had not received a payment after several weeks.  He had eaten nothing for two days and was embarrassed, he said that he had not washed or changed his clothes for a week.  We made sure that Joe had a hot meal, a change of clothes and was able to use the shower at First Base.

“Joe was assigned a caseworker who met with Joe every day for the following week and it became clear that he was feeling overwhelmed by his difficulties, ashamed and hopeless about his future.   He said that he had visited a railway bridge on several nights in the previous month and had considered throwing himself under a passing train.  Joe disclosed the difficulties that he experienced throughout his life and that these experiences were re-visiting him on a nightly basis and tormenting him.

“Joe’s caseworker referred him to the Mental Health Team, a multi-agency team providing mental healthservices for homeless people, contacted his GP and made Joe an emergency appointment.  The Doctor was sympathetic and offered medication and follow-up visits.

“It was obvious that Joe was in no position to be actively seeking work and he needed a new claim for a sickness related benefit.   Joe was very anxious and physically shaking while he spoke with the Department for Work and Pensions on the phone so his caseworker supported him with the call.  It was a further two weeks and many phone calls later that Joe received any benefit payment.

“Joe met with the Mental Health Team at First Base and they agreed to offer some on-going support, seeing Joe fortnightly, alongside regular contact with his GP and daily support from his caseworker.

“With the support of his caseworker, Joe arranged an appointment with a BHT housing adviser who suggested that he make a homeless application.  His application was rejected due to lack of medical information supporting his case.  As Joe did not have a local connection to Brighton and Hove it was not possible for him to be referred into one of the City’s hostels, so we began to explore the possibility of privately rented housing with support from another BHT project, Firm Foundations.

“Throughout this time, Joe was continuing to sleep on the beach and his mental and emotional state would fluctuate greatly on a daily basis.  Joe made very good use of services at First Base, including volunteering and on good days was able to plan the direction of casework himself.

“Over time, we collected letters from his GP and from mental health specialists involved in his care and re-submitted his homeless application.   With the additional evidence gathered Brighton and Hove City Council accepted Joe’s application for housing.

“Joe is now living in BHT supported accommodation for people experiencing mental health difficulties.  He has key work support from this project alongside specialist mental health support for Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  He is engaging with alcohol support services and still calls in periodically to let us know how things are for him.”

First Base operates in the centre of Brighton and is the main centre for the provision of support to assist people who are homeless or vulnerably housed in Brighton and Hove to move on from the streets or insecure accommodation and realise their aspirations.  First Base operates client-centred specialist services to support people who are sleeping rough in the city to get off the streets, start realising their aspirations through work, learning and leisure and find a place they can call home. Several services run from First Base including a Healthy Lifestyles Project (comprising the Catering Training Project and Fitness 4 All), PASH (Promotional and Awareness of Sexual Health), First Impressions (CV and Employment Service), Culture (Heritage and Cultural Activities), and Dine, our catering Social Enterprise company.  

What I want to see in the parties’ manifestos

The political parties are yet to publish their manifestos for the June general election. I have three simple requests to all parties for policies to be included in those manifestos:

  1. Make a commitment to building council houses, in massive numbers, as an investment for current and future generations. Abolish the Right to Buy so that these homes remain in public ownership in order that they continue, in perpetuity, to meet housing need, and not investment opportunities.
  2. Make an unequivocal commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of the 2017-2022 parliament. In a country as wealthy as the United Kingdom, it is an outrage that people are living on the streets, and their presence should shame those in a position to end rough sleeping.
  3. Put an end to benefit cuts. More than half of all voters think that benefit cuts have gone too far, according to an Ipsos Mori poll published on Thursday. Denying 18 to 21 year olds the right to claim benefit support to help towards their rents will drive young people into homelessness, into crime, and into sex work. What politician wants that as part of their legacy?

Sex-for-accommodation and denying housing benefit to 18-21 year olds

BBC South East has done a great public service by uncovering the sex-for-rent scandal where young people are asked to provide sexual ‘favours’ in return for accommodation. The report on tonight’s programme (13th April) shows the need for a change in the law as this arrangement is not illegal.

Demanding sex for accommodation has not been an uncommon reality for homeless people for many years.

Earlier this month the government withdrew the automatic right of young people aged 18 to 21 to claim housing benefit. While there are some exemptions, up to 11,000 are expected to be affected over the next few years.

That seems like a sensible policy in light of tonight’s exposure ….! What do politicians think young people will do if they can’t get help towards their housing costs?

11,000 18 to 21 year olds lose the right to claim housing benefit

Since Monday, those under 21 have lost the automatic right to claim housing benefit when making new claims.  It is estimated that 1,000 will be affected this year and up to 11,000 by 2020/21.

The government expects to save £105m with the cut through the life of this parliament, with set-up costs of £5m and running costs estimated at between £0.5m and £1m per year.

I have previously referred to research by Heriott Watt University that calculated that once exceptions and costs incurred on other public services were taken into account, the policy could save just £3.3 million a year.  If just 140 young people end up on the streets, the additional cost to other services (ambulance service, NHS, housing departments, police, etc.) then this measure will actually be a drain on public finances!

In Wednesday’s Argus (5th April 2017), I was quoted as saying: “Desperate times for young people will see them return to unsafe family situations, turn to crime and prostitution, and end up sleeping rough.

“For most 18 to 21-year-olds life is a big adventure but for those on the streets it can turn into the worst of all nightmares. They have hopes and aspirations but if you are on the streets it is a day to day struggle for survival.”

This policy makes no sense in economic on humanitarian grounds.

Housing in Hastings: 18 to 21 year olds

(This is the fifth and final article on Housing in Hastings that I have published this week, based on a report prepared by my colleague, Sue Hennell.)

From 1st April 2017 for all new claimants aged between 18 and 21 years will not be entitled to housing costs in Hastings under Universal Credit unless they fulfil the criteria for one of the exemptions.  The exemptions will include:

  • someone responsible for a child or a qualifying young person,
  • a person who is not able to live with their parents because either they have no parents or neither parent occupies accommodation within Great Britain,
  • it is inappropriate for the person to live with their parents (possibilities have been set out for this by the Secretary of State),
  • a person affected by domestic violence, a person who is working (there are clarifications for this) and
  • other exemptions.

People who are in receipt of the Local Housing Allowance when they apply for Universal Credit will be protected against this change.

I believe that if there is one measure that will lead to an increase in rough sleeping amongst young people, it is denying them the automatic right to claim support for their housing costs.

A spokesperson from the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We want to make sure that 18- to 21-year-olds do not slip straight into a life on benefits, which is why we are helping young people get the training, skills and experience they need to move into a job and build a career.”

As I have written before, desperate times for young people will see them return to unsafe family situations, turn to crime and prostitution, and end up sleeping rough.

What about the finances – we always hear we have to tackle the deficit. 2015 research from Heriot Watt University calculated that once exceptions and costs incurred on other public services were taken into account, the policy could save just £3.3 million a year.

If just 140 young people end up on the streets, the additional cost to other services (ambulance service, NHS, housing departments, police, etc.) then this measure will actually be a drain on public finances!

It makes no sense in economic terms. It makes no sense in human terms. It is the wrong policy and goes totally against recent positive moves by government, now least through the Homelessness Bill, to tackle homelessness.

If you are facing eviction, get advice as early as possible from one of BHT’s Advice Centres in Hastings, Eastbourne and Brighton, the CAB or another advice centre.

Here are contact details for the BHT Advice Centres:

Brighton

Eastbourne

Hastings