Charlie Jordan: remembering a community activist extraordinaire

Charlie Jordan

Time Out Argus published a photograph of Charlie Jordan standing under one of Brighton’s piers and asked who he was (13 February 2018).

Charlie was a community activist extraordinaire and, in spite of being an atheist, was the first director of People and Churches Together (now Impact Initiatives).

He was a leading light in the Emmaus movement, helping to establish both the Brighton and Hastings Emmaus projects.

A South African by birth, he had a passion for social justice, and was influential in shaping the charity sector in Brighton.  He encouraged others and gave others opportunities that then led to further opportunities.  In around 1981 he gave me my first formal role in social policy, asking me to write a report on unemployment in Brighton.  I am forever in his debt.

Many years later (by which time he had kicked his 40 a day habit) he invited me to meet visitors from Emmaus Paris.  After the meeting, we walked home together, parting at Preston Circus but not before Charlie held forth of a range of topics, for well over an hour.  Charlie could talk!  The next morning I heard the shocking news that Charlie had died overnight.

There were many people in the voluntary sector who, around that time, helped to make Brighton a better place, people like Jenny Backwell, Peter Field (now the Lord Lieutenant), Selma Montford, Bruno Crosby and Patricia Norman.  Charlie Jordan was one of the most influential and he is someone I still miss today.

(There was a moving tribute to Charlie by Terry Waite published in The Independent shortly after Charlie’s death in 2009)

Advertisements

David Gauke says that all that is wrong with Universal Credit is that criticisms go without challenge

David Gauke, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has denied that the introduction of Universal Credit is causing hardship. He said: “I strongly believe we have got a really good policy with this that will transform lives, but there is almost a sort of knee-jerk criticism and a temptation in particular with universal credit that you can almost say anything critical about it and it goes without challenge.”

That’s alright, then.  Just the same as when Iain Duncan Smith repeatedly claimed that Universal Credit would be delivered “on time and within budget”. The massive overspend, the wasted millions on a failed IT system, and the massive overrun on its delivery must be Fake News.

And what about the hardship being caused to those claiming Universal Credit. Fake News, Fake News, Fake News.  It just goes without challenge.

What about the excellent and well-researched article by Heather Spurr, once with Inside Housing and now with Shelter.

And what about this item by the Resolution Foundation, or this from the Institute for Government, or this from Citizens Advice, or BHT’s own research following the roll out of Universal Credit in Hastings.

I know I have had a word or two to say about Universal Credit, such as the blog post entitled “Universal Credit is a disgrace, and those who have advocated it and continue to defend it should hang their heads in shame” or this one “Another day, another report on the disaster that is Universal Credit” or this one “More evidence of the disaster zone that is known as Universal Credit” or this “Should the roll out of Universal Credit continue at this time? Watch the evidence to Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee”.

Noi doubt it is all Fake News that has gone without challenge.

The problem, Mr Gauke, is not that criticism goes unchallenged.  The problem, in the words of the former Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, is that Universal Credit is “operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving” (see here).

The problem, Mr Gauke, is that you, Mr Duncan Smith, the DWP and the government as a whole carry on regardless, in spite of the evidence.  The most modest reforms imaginable announced in the autumn won’t resolve the fundamental flaws inherent in Universal Credit. A lick of paint would not have saved the Titanic after it brushed up against an iceberg.

Universal Credit has become Mrs May’s poll tax. (I vlogged on this recently).  No matter how well Mr Gauke defends the indefensible, Universal Credit remains flawed, it remains operationally messy, it remains socially unfair, and it remains unforgiving.

The Ministry of Justice, or MiniJustice for short, is on the verge of wrecking the Court Duty scheme that prevents homelessness

In George Orwell’s 1984, there were government departments that had names with a meaning the polar opposite to what the department did.  According to Wikipedia, “the Ministry of Truth is the propaganda ministry. As with the other ministries in the novel, the name Ministry of Truth is a misnomer because in reality it serves the opposite: it is responsible for any necessary falsification of historical events.”

So too with the Ministry of Justice.  One would have thought the purpose of such a ministry would be to uphold and promote justice, but it appears to do the polar opposite, rationing access to justice, ensuring that accessing justice is difficult for all but the most well off.

But the Ministry of Justice isn’t from 1984, it is Britain in 2017.

The new Lord Chancellor, David Lidington, has been in post since the 11 June 2017.  Since that date, for example, the BHT advice centre in Hastings has stopped 11 households from losing their home because they got assistance under the Court Duty Scheme.  (Three years ago I wrote a live blog about the Brighton Court Duty scheme undertaken by our Brighton advice centre.  I also published an account in October 2014 of the experience of someone whose home we saved through Court Duty).

The MoJ, or should we call it MiniJustice, is consulting on the future of Court Duty services. Court duty for possession cases is the last gasp chance at access to justice.  It is the last line of defence, and for many it is their last hope in saving their homes.  BHT, for example, has an advisor or solicitor in the Court building in case someone turns up without legal representation.

Almost everyone who responded to the Court Duty consultation said that bringing in price to the tendering will be a race to the bottom, but the MOJ thinks it will bring in greater competition…..

What price does anyone put on this? Right now MiniJustice says £71 plus VAT. That’s the fee organisations like BHT get at Court Duty for saving someone’s home.  Imagine the costs to the state, local and national, for each household that becomes homeless.  £71 + VAT must be the Bargain of the Century for government.

Solicitors are already pulling out from operating Court Duty contracts.  Just last month Tunbridge Wells became another Court without a Desk Duty scheme.

According to Bob Neill MP, chairman of the Justice Select Committee in the Commons and a Conservative MP, that, while he understands the budget pressures the government is under, he believes “we have now removed more than the system can take and should rectify the anomalies as soon as possible”.

MiniJustice had planned to cut the legal aid expenditure by £350m, but the spending has reduced from around £2.2bn to £1.6bn, almost twice the plan. The cuts have had a devastating impact on the number of firms and local advice centres from which the public can obtain help. The latest statistics reveal a 32% reduction in the number of providers since the LASPO cuts were made.

Most importantly, there are now nearly a million fewer civil legal aid cases than there were seven years ago.  Further cuts and changes to the Court Duty scheme will exacerbate this and we will see yet more homelessness.

Private rented housing is “out of reach” for under 35s, says the Chartered Institute of Housing

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) recently carried out research into the gap between rents in the private rented sector and what Local Housing Allowance (LHA) will pay.

LHA is based on the 30th centile of the range rents charged in the private rented sector. Except it isn’t. That was how it was supposed to be (having previously been reduced from there 50th centile). In fact, the level of payment has been frozen for three years and will be frozen until 2019/20. LHA no longer reflects in any way the reality of rents in a locality.

In Brighton and Hove the rates are £82.66 for a room in a shared house, £153.02 for a one bed flat, £192.48 for a two bed property. The average one bed flat in Brighton and Hove is now £971 per month compared to LHA of £612.08 for the same period.

In Eastbourne the rates are £67.00, £116.53 and £151.50, and in Hastings £69.77, £92.06 and £120.29. (There are higher rates for 3 and 4 properties).

It is worse for you if you are under 35 where you are restricted to claiming LHA for just a room in a shared house.

And if you think it is bad for under 35s, it is EVEN worse for those under 21 for whom the rate is zero (unless you are ‘lucky’ enough to qualify for one of several exemptions – merely being a rough sleeper is not enough).

So what has the CIH found? It has found that the gap between LHA and rents has widened to the point where private rented housing is “out of reach” for under 35s.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote how the senior civil servant responsible for housing policy at the Department for Work and Pensions, Darrell Smith, said that the government is now going to use LHA rates to set new, lower rents for specialist supported housing. Why? Because it is such a good barometer for the market? No. He said: “The one advantage of (LHA rates) is that they are already there, so it doesn’t cost the government anything to set it up. I know”, he continued, “that isn’t a great answer but that’s all I have got”.

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

Housing in Hastings: Rough Sleeping

(This is the fourth of five posts on housing in Hastings based on a briefing paper prepared by my colleague, Sue Hennell)

The numbers of street homeless people in Hastings have increased. There has been a 700% increase in rough sleeping in Hastings since 2010. The Seaview Outreach Project identified 115 people as sleeping rough in Hastings and St Leonards between April and September 2016. 54% of the 115 had a local connection to the Hastings and St Leonards area. 33% did not have a local connection and 13% did not want to disclose this information.

There is a lot of work going on in Hastings to address this situation and there was a multi-agency event on the 15th of March where the agencies came together to look at ways forward, this included Hastings Borough Council, Seaview, Fulfilling Lives, HomeWorks, Sussex Police, NHS Hastings & Rother CCG, Making Every Adult Matter and others.

IT is my viewthat resolving the issue of rough sleeping cannot be achieved at only a local level and that national housing policy has to change. Yes, the government makes funding available for specific initiatives, but other policies hold back the aspiration that nobody should be rough sleeping by 2020. We need changes to housing policy, the funding of homes with truly affordable rents, and the benefit system should assist, not frustrate such moves. As it stands, the combination of policies, including the real threat to specialist supported housing (which in any case is in short supply in East Sussex, and there are no hostels for homeless people in Hastings) will just make matters worse and we will see, inevitably, an increase in rough sleeping in Hastings.

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

 

Housing and Hastings: The benefit cap

(This is the third in five posts regarding housing in Hastings based on a briefing paper prepared by my colleague Sue Hennell. On Monday I wrote about Universal credit and how the six week wait for the first payment was causing problems for people trying to get accommodation in the private rented sector.  Yesterday I wrote about difficulties in accessing housing in the private rented sector.)

BHT’s Hastings Advice Centre has seen clients where possession is being sought by landlords due to rent arrears, but the underlying cause has been the benefit cap.

The benefit cap was reduced in autumn 2016 to £20,000 for couples with or without children and lone parents, and £13,400 for single people. Any reduction to benefits over this amount is taken from their local housing allowance or housing costs via Universal Credit.

The only ways to increase a client’s income is for them to be in one of the groups that are exempt from the benefit cap or for them to be in work over 16 hours. Sometimes this is not possible and this means that any housing is not affordable for this client.

If the landlord was a social landlord and they brought possession proceedings in the county court, the court would have no option but to grant possession if the client had no means to cover the rent plus an amount off the arrears each week.

Having said all of the above, Hastings Housing Access Project still managed to assist eleven single clients to access accommodation within the private rented sector from the 1st of September 2016 to the 31st January 2017.

Since the 1st of April 2016 BHT Hastings Advice has seen 230 clients in private rented accommodation where they have been served with notice to leave their property.

I repeat the question I often ask, where are people going to live if there is not enough social housing, if the private rented sector is inaccessible, and now if those in housing can no longer afford to live there.

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