A government-designed system that is creating homelessness and forcing people to use food banks

Research published by Sheffield Hallam University on behalf of the Residential Landlord Association shows that landlords are, increasingly, refusing to let their properties to those under 35. There are a number of reasons for this, not least that the landlord might not get paid on time or at all.

32% of landlords (of the 1,996 questioned) have said that that they have actively reduced lettings to those under 35.

The situation is more acute for those under 35 in receipt of housing benefit or universal credit. Two-thirds of landlords say they are unwilling to let to this group because of a higher risk of rent arrears as payments are delayed through administrative delays and payments are made to the tenant rather than direct to the landlord.

We used to have a system that almost used to work but then some idiot decided that a higher priority would be to prepare claimants for the reality of work by mirroring the conditions of those in work. He (it was a ‘he’) then introduced a system that has been so poor in its design and execution that people are becoming homeless and others reliant on food banks to survive. It takes some sort of genius to drive people into destitution because of his own arrogant, self-belief.

I’m not going to name this person. Choose any name. It could be Iain, perhaps Duncan, or even Mr Smith. Whatever works for you.

Alan Ward, chair of the Residents Landlord Association, said: “We have already held constructive talks with the Government about this and we will keep the situation under review, but there is a need for policymakers to engage further with landlords to consider what more action can be taken to address this decline. Without this many under-35s are likely to struggle to access any accommodation” (my emphasis)

So where will those under 35 live? I challenge any of my Conservative friends, and I have quite a few, to tell me.

And while they are about it, will they say, hand on heart, that they are proud of what the welfare reform agenda is delivering, that it is a strong and stable system…..

And please don’t come up with the twaddle about rescuing the economy crashed by the former government or that there is no magic money tree. There is money there. There wasn’t a problem when the government needed £1 billion for its friends in the DUP.

One simple measure the government could do, and it will cost next to nothing, is to continue making payments direct to landlords. That might, just might, improve confidence.

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How should charities portray homeless men and women?

I know I frustrate some of my colleagues who are involved in fundraising and publicity.  I really don’t like BHT ever using pictures of homeless people begging, bedded down, or looking dishevelled.  “Give me happy, smiley faces” isn’t what I always ask for, although I often do!

There is a stereotypical view of homeless people, usually middle-aged to older men, unshaven and in tatty clothes.  More likely than not, this image has him sitting alone on a park bench with a bottle of cider.

The reality is that homeless people are all different.  Most go to amazing lengths to maintain their dignity and self-worth, in spite of the odds against them.  At First Base Day Centre we see, on a daily basis, the determination of homeless men and women to be clean and tidy, and we provide shower facilities, toiletries, and clean and dry clothes.

Jon Dean is a lecturer in politics and sociology at Sheffield Hallam University.  He has said in a report published in Sociological Research Online that homelessness charities might not be as successful as they might be if they move too far away from this stereotypical image.

It is the responsibility of charities to maximise income and then use it to improve the circumstances of their beneficiaries.  Some might argue that we would be remiss if our personal sensitivities interfered with this obligation.  Others (myself included) think that charities have a duty to challenge stereotypes of people who are homeless.

When I meet someone for the first time, amongst the first bits of information we share are our names and what we do.  It helps to identify ourselves and establish our status.  “I’m Andy and I work for BHT”.  I might get some strange looks if I the first thing I shared about myself included a health problem: “I’m Andy and I am diabetic”.

Yet many charities do just that with their clients.  “This is Mary, she is an addict”, or “This is John, he has a mental health problem”.  Why do they do it?  Possibly they do it to emphasise their mission, possibly to assist their fundraising.  But I don’t like it.

I believe that change is possible, that we shouldn’t limit the pace and change that is possible.  By portraying homeless people in a stereotypical way, and by labelling them, we create yet a further barrier which they will need to overcome.  If it costs us a bob or two, so what.  I am sure that there are more people out there who will support our work because we are committed to change.

(You could help First Base to help homeless men and women by making a donation through our Amazon Wish List, or alternatively by making a regular cash donation.  Thank you).