Archives For homeless

1) Rise in number of homeless families with children in B&Bs

The number of homeless families with children in B&Bs is at it’s highest in nearly ten years. There are around 2090 families currently in this sort of temporary/emergency accommodation – an increase of 8% on last year, according to research from the homeless charity – Shelter.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Homlessness legislation asks that B&Bs are avoided when placing families. If they are used, families should be there no longer than six weeks. However, there has been an increase in the number of families being placed in this emergency accommodation since 2009, and 760 of the 2090 families had lived there longer than six weeks at the end of June.

The research also found that there were around 43,000 other families in other forms of temporary accommodation, most often short-term private rent flats which can be extremely expensive.

Shelter interviewed 25 families who had stayed in B&B’s and found that many felt “unsafe” with problems including overcrowding, exposure to drugs, threats of violence and sexual offences, lack of facilities including fridges, cooking equipment and tables for children to eat or do homework.

“I try to cook because it’s cheaper, but I can’t put stuff in the fridge because it’s too small so I can’t use fresh stuff. I’m using stuff in tins all the time,” said one mother.

Shelter’s Chief Executive, Campbell Robb, said; “Our shocking findings have uncovered the shameful conditions homeless children will be living in this Christmas. Parents and children sharing beds, children forced to eat on the floor and being threatened with violence in the place they live. This shouldn’t be happening in 21st-century Britain.”

Kris Hopkins, the housing minister commented that councils had been given £1bn “to tackle homelessness and to support people affected by the welfare reforms,” and to meet “legal requirements” in helping the homeless. He added that families should not be placed in B&B’s and never for more than six weeks, and with the extra funding provided “there is no excuse for councils to breach this.”

shelter_logo1_555px

Shelter, the homeless charity which carried out the research

However, Shelter also believe that more and more homeless people are at threat of being ignored with the government’s plans of removing the right to judicial review. A judicial review allows people the right to challenge authorities and organisations on decisions, and is being scrapped by the government under the veil of reducing legal aid costs. Shelter say:

“The government points again and again to the need to reduce costs, but in limiting judicial review their own figures show they expect to save £3m at most; a tiny 0.03% of the Ministry of Justice’s total £8.6 billion annual budget. In fact,recent research by Matrix Chambers suggests these cuts could well be a false economy, ending up costing the government far more than they want to save.

“The proposed changes mean that rather than negotiating a settlement with the council, when we can, to get a family housed quickly, we would have to pursue every case to its final conclusion through the courts. This would give greater uncertainty to the family who would have to wait longer for an outcome, clog up the courts time with cases that may otherwise have settled, and increase council’s legal costs.”

Read more about this story here.

Read more about Shelter’s campaign here.

2) Affordable homes risk demolition due to bedroom tax

Despite there being a national affordable property shortage, and despite stories such as the above where families are desperate to find housing, some three bedroom houses and flats are being condemned by housing associations because the bedroom tax has made them too expensive for tenants to live in.

Magenta Living, a housing provider in Liverpool, commented that “with changes to welfare benefits, there is very little prospect of letting upper three-bedroom maisonettes in the current climate”. Several other housing associations, with thousands of homes, have come forward to concur that demolition is becoming feasible as they struggle to fill up their blocks, sell up or maintain costs whilst they are empty.

The news is likely to turn up the pressure on the Commons debate on the bedroom tax on Tuesday, where Labour are expected to support an immediate repeal of the policy. Some Lib Dems have also raised they concerns over the controversial spare room subsidy, which has been in place since April this year, affecting over 600,000 people.

But while the government claim the policy was meant to make the best use of the housing stock in the UK, the idea of demolishing affordable housing, whilst the rate of building is slowing against population growth, is counterproductive. The Joseph Rowntree foundation found that Britain would face a housing shortage of 1 million by 2022 unless building was significantly increased.

Read more about this story here.

3) Ed Miliband says energy price freeze would save services £100m

Ed Miliband has confirmed his party will freeze energy bills until 2017, in order to “reset the broken energy market” if Labour win the election in 2015.

Speaking to a crowd in Crouch End in North London, the Labour leader said:

“Labour’s price freeze will save families an average £120 and an average small business user would benefit by over £5,000. It’s not just Britain’s families and businesses that would benefit from this price freeze, it’s our vital public services too. New figures today show that if David Cameron put in place our freeze today, public services would save £100m.”

Image: Belfast Telegraph

Image: Belfast Telegraph

He said the savings for the NHS were the equivalent of 1300 nurses’ salaries, and for schools it could pay for 700 teachers.

The coalition continued to slam the policy as a “con” calling the price freeze unworkable, and suggesting that companies could raise their prices before and after the freeze.

Read more about this story here.

4) Esther McVey silent on possible resignation over Independent Living Fund win

Esther McVey, the former disability minister, has remained silent over her possible resignation from her new post in the same department, after her decision to close the Independent Living Fund was overturned in the court of appeal.

Campaigners were told that three senior court of appeal judges unanimously upheld an appeal against McVey’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund in 2015.

The judges criticised McVey’s decision with one commenting that there was no evidence that McVey “directed her mind to the need to advance equality of opportunity.” Another said that McVey “was sufficiently aware of the very real adverse consequences which closing the fund would have on the lives of many of the more severely disabled.”

Image: Birmingham Mail

Image: Birmingham Mail

The case was brought to the courts by five disabled people, who believed that the removal of the Independent Living Fund could remove independence for thousands of disabled people with the highest support needs.

MIke Penning, the new disability minister, must now decide if he wants to appeal the decision against McVey, announce a fresh closure against the fund or admit defeat and allow it to continue.

Read more about this story here.

5) Worldwide protests ignored by mainstream news

The Bonfire of Austerity and the Million Mask March were largely ignored by the mainstream media, despite numbers reaching the thousands.

As some burnt eviction and debt letters on Westminster Bridge, crowds of people donning the familiar Guy Fawkes masks gathered in Parliament square.

The BBC reported there were several hundred people at the demonstration, and hence this is why it did not make their main broadcasts. However, pictures from the protest show there were significantly more. Additionally, the Million Mask March was successful in creating a global protest, with marches taking place in 477 countries worldwide.

Anonymous members, a group behind the march against austerity, poverty and the wealth gap, and other protesters took to Twitter to voice their opinion on the bypass of their demonstrations.

Twitter comments on the #MillionMaskMarch Twitter comments on the #MillionMaskMarch

 

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

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In the second part of our interview with journalist and Chair of Nightwatch Croydon, Jad Adams, we talk about what authorities and government  can do to help the growing problem of homelessness…

Jad Adams image: Radio Times

Jad Adams image: Radio Times

What should we do now to help the homeless?

“I think we’ve got to look at the very bottom. Look at where people actually are and the community that they are actually living in, and see what support that community wants to give, what that community is able to give. And we should support community initiatives with things like floating shelters and lunch clubs, and soup runs and permanent shelters. I would like to see permanent shelters throughout the country because if we only had a few, then people would gravitate to them and they would become magnets for homeless people, so I don’t think we want a few homeless shelters. I think we want lots of shelters in different towns, different boroughs throughout the country.

“Local authorities and government like to work with organisations that reflect their power structure, that have a Chief Executive and the finance department and the policy department and the operatives down at the bottom level. And shelters and soup runs and other kinds of organisations like that just don’t follow those patterns.”

“The authorities ignore the shelters in most cases. Where we’ve got floating shelters operating, for example the churches have been running them, more than half the boroughs in London had floating shelters in the last winter, when there are such shelters, very often the authorities just ignore them. Just pretend they’re not there. Because they don’t really fit into their model. Local authorities and government like to work with organisations that reflect their power structure, that have a Chief Executive and the finance department and the policy department and the operatives down at the bottom level. And shelters and soup runs and other kinds of organisations like that just don’t follow those patterns. They’re very difficult for local authorities to deal with. And so, you usually get the situation that shelters are supported by the churches or by independent charities, local independent charities, and the local authorities just ignore them altogether. I ought to say, that’s not invariably the case, because in some cases the local authorities say ‘we have the obligation to provide cold weather provision for rough sleepers, so here it is, we’ll support our local shelter.’ And I think that’s a much more positive way of doing things.”

What else can local authorities do?  

“Local authorities should look at provision in their own area, look at things that people are already doing and support them. I don’t think local authorities should be kickstarting these things. I don’t think they should be going to the churches and saying ‘let’s set up a shelter’, but I think they ought to respond to the churches when they say ‘we want to set up a shelter’. I think they ought to be more helpful with providing premises and cutting through red tape with planning permissions and in referring people to homeless shelters. I think they need to get in with the game. And also give money, but this isn’t primarily a begging bowl exercise. It’s for the local authorities to have a more positive attitude to local initiatives, and to stop thinking that they can just pass on their responsibilities by handing everything that they have responsibility for, to one of the big charities and say right we’ve covered homelessness because clearly that hasn’t worked.

“It’s for the local authorities to have a more positive attitude to local initiatives.”

“They’re not very good with small charities. Local authorities like to deal with the big national charities. They like to deal with the local branch of the national charity because it reflects their power structure and their way of looking at the world, and actually they ought to be looking at what people in their own borough are doing at the grassroots and seeing if they can support that.”

Image: towntalk.co.uk

Image: towntalk.co.uk

Is this becoming more important to deal with as more welfare cuts loom? 

“The welfare cuts make this more urgent but so does the number of indigent Eastern Europeans staying here. I mean an awful lot of Eastern Europeans came and either settled or the made a bit of money and then they went away again, and they were usually the very skilled ones. And the unskilled people came hoping that they’d pick up work and be successful, and very often have not been and so end up in tent cities or living in derelict buildings or often in very overcrowded conditions. They’re not really engaging with the community and they’re not making enough money to get out of dyer poverty and they’re largely reliant on charities and that’s really unfortunate and that’s not what the European Union and free movement of labour was really supposed to be about.”

How should we deal with this? 

“That becomes politically very hot indeed. I think that what we’ve got to do is say that yes, people can come into the country, yes we absolutely permit free movement of labour, because that’s one of the four principles of the EU. It’s one of the things we ought to be doing and we all agree with it.  But people should only be able to come into the country if they have a sponsor, or if they have the money to keep themselves for a couple of months or a place to live, some conditions on entry so that people can’t enter the country with nothing at all and expect to live off charity. We wouldn’t do that in another country. We wouldn’t up and go to Spain and China, and say well, I haven’t got any money, haven’t got a job, haven’t got anywhere to live and I don’t know the language but I’ll just go and live on the streets – it’s really not the way we can work in the 21st Century. And we have got to be able to apply ourselves to the new situation where we find ourselves in the EU with people of very disparate levels of wealth, so that our treatment of the poor is that much better than the treatment of the poor in Poland. It’s better to be poor in this country than it is to be poor in Poland. Countries have got to get better and develop their people slowly. It doesn’t do anyone any good to just move from one country to another.”

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Jad Adams is a journalist and broadcaster and Chair of the Nightwatch homeless charity in Croydon. Following his talk for BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought on how homelessness has been monetised (which you can listen to or read through Jad’s website here), we caught up with him to talk about the problems with government policy, attitudes and what we need to do to help the homeless….

Jad Adams image: Radio Times

Jad Adams image: Radio Times

You work with Nightwatch, a homeless charity based in Croydon. Could you tell us a bit about what you do? 

“Nightwatch is a voluntary organisation, all run by volunteers, which operates only in Croydon. We were set up in 1976. I’m the Chair of that organisation. We’ve got about 130 volunteers. We go out every evening and we also help people with other things like re-settling former homeless people into new accommodation and helping people with working clothes like steel-toe capped boots, because you can’t even walk onto a building site and ask for work without protective clothing, so we supply them with that protective clothing. Nightwatch has been going since 1979, I’ve been chair of the organisation since 1992.”

What sort of problems do the homeless people you deal with have? Is it just the stereotype of drug addicts and so on? What are the reasons some of the people you’ve met have ended up on the streets? 

“There are substance abuse issues with some people, but far from being the majority of them. Probably half the people we see at the moment are Eastern European, and if I look at the other section of people I see what they have in common normally, is something like an institutional background. Very often they were in children’s homes, they were in prisons, in mental institutions, they’ve been in the armed services. So very often, institutions are the main factor rather than substance abuse.

 “So while some are drinkers it’s not the majority by any means, and the most common psychological problems for homeless people is not alcoholism, it’s depression.”

“There are always some who are addicted and I often help re-settle former addicts who have been through treatment programmes. And there’s more drinking in the homeless community than there is in the general community. There are always a small number of homeless people who are drunk and very noisy, so sometimes, the public get the idea that all homeless people are drunk and noisy, and that’s not actually the case, it’s just that the ones that are the most visible are also the most drunk. So while some are drinkers it’s not the majority by any means, and the most common psychological problems for homeless people is not alcoholism, it’s depression.”

Are there many ex-servicemen on the streets?  

“The Ministry of Defence and the serviceman’s charities have really smartened up on this in the last ten years, and the reason, a rather cynical reason I think, is that we were involved in a couple of unpopular wars and the government didn’t want the men coming back from those wars to then become homeless because it would reflect badly on the government. I think that’s partly why, but I also think there’s been a recognition of the needs of ex-service people. So things have been better over the last few years. It’s one of the success stories, really. I used to see veterans of certainly the second world war, and the Korean war, and gulf war one which was 1991, and the falklands war which was 1982, and I saw people who were veterans of those wars. I haven’t yet seen any from Iraq or Afghanistan.”

What drew you to wanting to help the homeless? 

“That’s a very good question and if I knew the answer to it I would probably know myself better than I actually do. I don’t why some people choose some things and not others. I mean I am concerned about animal cruelty but I have never been a member of an animal charity. I have a friend who fosters mentally handicapped kids, I would never think of doing that. I’m glad someone does but it’s not in my nature to do that. I know people who would never want to be engaged with the homeless community but it has always felt to me to be right for me, something that I wish to do.”

What are the problems with people’s attitudes towards the homeless and government attitudes and policies?

“I think the public are very positive indeed towards homeless people. In fact, they’re so positive that some people pretend to be homeless in order to benefit from the generosity of the public. People who have got somewhere to live and aren’t badly off will sit with a card saying ‘homeless and hungry’ and people give them money. They can only do that sort of scam because people are so concerned about homelessness and are committed to wanting to end homelessness. There really aren’t that many people anymore that blame the homeless for their own condition, which used to be what people would say. ‘They want to be like that,’ they would say, ‘they want to sleep in doorways or their lifestyle pre-disposes them to do that’. So the public don’t particularly feel that way, they realise that people are victims of circumstances. They would like to help, they don’t know exactly what to do, but they would like to help.  Or they think that the government should help. But it’s very unclear to the public what you would do with a problem like homelessness.

 “I think the hostels said you’ve got to come either all the way into the system and you’ve got to sign up for housing benefit and we’ll process you though the hostel or if you don’t want to play, just stay outside.”

“The last government was generally positive towards homelessness but I think they have been lead by some of the big homeless charities to put all their efforts into hostels. And I can’t see hostels being the answer because there’s too many homeless people and not enough hostels and also hostels just aren’t good enough. They are not a solution to the problem of homelessness. They can be a kind of halfway house between street homelessness and prison. So in effect, you’re going into a hostel which has got lots of rules and you’re going to be in there for an indefinite amount of time. That’s what very often happens to people who get into the hostel system.”

Nightwatch Logo

Nightwatch Logo

You say big homeless charities have influenced the government, how so? 

“The government wanted to do something about homelessness very reasonably, and it was when homelessness was quite low. We hadn’t had a lot of Eastern Europeans coming in at that time, and the government was told that homelessness could be eradicated by the end of 2012, at least in London. And that clearly did not happen. The target of ending homelessness was nowhere near reach.

“So clearly we ought to say, ‘Oh right, it was a gallant effort but that was the wrong policy, let’s do something different.’ And no one seems to be saying that. I didn’t like to criticize the policy at the time because at least they were trying and some people indeed were helped. I can’t say that no one was ever helped by the policy of ‘No One Left Out’ but clearly that wasn’t a success, and we ought to be looking at other ways to help homeless people, other ways of getting people part-way into the system. Because I think the hostels said you’ve got to come either all the way into the system and you’ve got to sign up for housing benefit and we’ll process you though the hostel or if you don’t want to play, just stay outside.

“The charities had stopped looking at themselves as primarily charitable organisations and had started seeing themselves as businesses, that had to maintain a certain level of supply and a certain level of money running through in order to maintain their career structures and premises and so on.”

“I would much rather go to homeless shelters, where people can enter at will. They can refer themselves, they don’t have to be referred by some professional, which aren’t reliant on the stream of housing benefit, which is so difficult to get anyway. But once you’ve got it, it’s difficult to get out of.

“There were some specialist operations. There was some attempts to help people with substance abuse problems for example. Notably, the Westminster Drug Project has been very good in this field. But there was an awful lot of filling up hostels just for the sake of filling them up, in order to make sure the money supply continued to run through the charity. The charities had stopped looking at themselves as primarily charitable organisations and had started seeing themselves as businesses, that had to maintain a certain level of supply and a certain level of money running through in order to maintain their career structures and premises and so on.”

Why did that happen?

“I think that happens because that’s what organisations do. They get ossified. When you start pumping money into an organisation, it realises it wants to get bigger and get more money, and own more property and do more things and bid for more contracts and compete with other people that are doing the same things. That’s the way organisations work and it’s certainly the way they work in commercial fields, but I don’t think they should be working that way in the charitable field.”

 

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Figures released last week show that there are still not enough affordable houses being built to cope with demand. The number of houses failed to reach even half the required estimate of 250,000 a year, and the figures were down on the same quarter last year.

There are currently around 1.7million households on waiting lists for social housing in the UK, and this number will only increase as the government fails to bolster the speed and amount of housing on offer. At the same time, house prices continue to rise and are pushed further and further out of reach for many people, and for those that are renting or have a mortgage, increased rates have resulted in many falling into arrears and sometimes becoming homeless.

Photo: www.theguardian.co.ukImage: The Guardian

This is a crisis created by a failure of successive governments to build new affordable housing in keeping with demand. Despite recent schemes designed to ‘help’ stimulate the market, such as the ‘help to buy’ scheme, the plans do not solve the housing crisis in the long term, and could in fact create a further housing bubble leaving future populations even more unable to get on the ladder, or able to pay rent.

The Chief Economist at the Institute of Directors, attacked the scheme last week, saying:

“The housing market needs help to supply, not help to buy and the extension of this scheme is very dangerous.

“Government guarantees will not increase the supply of homes, but they will drive up prices at a time when it seems likely that house prices are already over-valued.”

The schemes are but another plaster over a gaping wound and cannot replace the need to build.

Moreover, a huge investment in building will stimulate the economy, provide jobs and future revenue from rents. There is really no reason for the government to not build houses, unless they want to retain the current market allowing only the rich to afford their own homes.

One step towards the solution would be to remove the housing investment cap placed by government on local councils, restricting their ability to help with a recovery.

The Local Government Association said in a press release last week  “councils could quadruple to 60,000 the number of new homes built over five years if the housing borrowing cap was removed. Under the current rules, councils would be able to borrow no more than £2.8 billion to invest in housing – enough to build 15,000 homes. Without the cap, councils could borrow up to £7 billion to invest in housing over five years, under existing Prudential Borrowing rules.”

The LGA represents over 370 councils in England and Wales and is now calling on the government to remove the cap. We hope they do.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

In the second part of our interview with housing support officer Jane Walters* (Read the first part here)we talk about how welfare reform has affected the lives of her clients and her job…

How have the changes to welfare and benefit cuts affected your clients?  

“We haven’t seen the worst of it. I think there’s going to be a huge impact from the benefit cuts. People think it’s just the bedroom tax but it’s not. Obviously we know that’s a huge impact, a lot of families and older people who have had their families now have to move out into the private rented sector.

“For our tenants, for one there’s limited move on.  The main route out of support accommodation is into the private rented sector. What’s the average rent in London, about £200-250 a week?

“Private landlords are being asked what the rent is and some will take whatever housing benefit will pay. What we are talking about now is the old style Rachmanism, in particular. He was famous in the sixties for being a slum landlord who made huge profits but did absolutely nothing to the private rented accommodation that he owned. And he could chuck people out willy-nilly. What came out of that was all the fair rent campaigns and huge changes to the housing sector.

Image: The Telegraph Peter Rachman (1919-1962), a landlord from the Notting Hill area of  London who became notorious for unethical practices including driving out tenants to maximise revenue from his rental properties.

Image: The Telegraph Peter Rachman (1919-1962), a landlord from the Notting Hill area of London who became notorious for unethical practices including driving out tenants to maximise revenue from his rental properties.

“They have brought in the benefit cap and now landlords are putting rents at the top of the benefit cap. So for single homeless people, a majority have very few skills, they are now stuck in a cycle of poverty because they cannot afford to pay £200-250 a week, and these are rooms – these are not studio flats. These are very depressing environments where people will either relapse or fall into depression. I certainly would.

“The problem is there has been no housing built since Margaret Thatcher came to power. That was 1979. Neither Tory nor Labour government have reversed that trend. It’s minimal, the amount of housing stock. And even what they do build, even under Tories, and actually under the last Labour government, it’s not affordable accommodation. It’s part-buy part-share and that’s completely out of most people’s league.

“For other client groups, the Tories got rid of the Community Care Grant. It’s a one-off grant to help people who have had an unsettled way of life and are part of a re-settlement programme moving onto independent accommodation. It would be about £800-900 to buy the right goods and furniture. Just furnish the flat, so they can keep their tenancy. If you put someone in an empty flat they’re not going to stay there very long, even if it’s a beautiful flat. They’ll become de-moralised and they’re not able to function if they don’t have the basic, essential items. It is a huge boost and I think it really helped people maintain their tenancies. I think there’s going to be less of that. Some tenants have no one at all. And that is an absolute fact. They will be rattling around in an empty flat. So that’s the risk.”

How has competitive tendering affected your job? 

“Across the country there’s huge pressure with A4E and the private companies that do all the work connections and stuff – they are exerting a lot of power over people. So if they don’t get their workbook right, there’s huge increases in sanctions for people on JSA.

Image: BBC News

Image: BBC News

“I think there’s an increase in disciplinaries – people’s frustration or lack of training. Even organisations who promote themselves as highly professional are being affected by it and they’re saying they can’t get quality staff, because people like me who came through nursing or community education, so it was a transition. And all that sort of stuff has gone. There’s poorer quality – they focus on graduates but they have no experience. You see them move quite quickly up the scale, away from frontline work because a lot of them just couldn’t cope with that. But I can understand because they have been jettisoned from university, but they’d go into things like fundraising or client liason – the softer stuff.

“Because of this bidding thing everyone is fragmented, services will deteriorate so much, to such an extent there will just be a skeleton service.  I don’t think it will be anything like it used to be and we’ve seen already this with a few community centres. But I think it’ll coincide with all the tax in the welfare reforms and the cuts in services. It’s going to be very difficult. I think we’re going to see, over the next couple of years, a huge increase in homelessness. I mean they’re talking about the number people applying to food banks is almost like a tsunami. I think the suffering is going to get great and it’s whether the workers can kind of support these issues, but they’re very intimidated and frightened to speak up because they can be sanctioned or put their job at risk.

“A lot of us are saying we can’t wait two years for a general election thank you very much. Otherwise in two years, half of us won’t have a bloody job.”

Have your clients been affected by the rhetoric that has been in the media and used by politicians against those on benefits or out of work? The ‘scrounger’ and ‘skiver’ rhetoric? 

“They are not even dealing with that. What they’re doing is struggling on a day-to-day basis.

“They are jumping through hoops every week, to make sure they sign on in time, go to their work connexions and they’re being made to sit in places for hours on computers, learning nothing. I am having to chase claims more. I have never accompanied clients to the job centre before but I have started doing that since April. I have never had to go to the job centre before. Maybe once or twice to drop something off, but now I’m doing it every week, accompanying somebody or having to chase the benefits up. A lot of people are already facing sanctions, so your benefit could be cut for two weeks, some of them are for months. It will put people at risk of re-offending or going into offending behaviour. It must be a huge temptation because if you don’t pay your service charge you risk getting evicted.”

KS

*name has been changed

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

As the welfare reforms take their toll, those most in need of help are likely to suffer the greatest. We caught up with Jane Walters*, a housing support officer to talk about what help there is for those that find themselves homeless or suffering from mental health problems, debt and drug and alcohol issues. In the first part of the interview we talk about what Jane does and how the job has changed over the last few years. In the second part on Thursday, we will tackle how the changes to welfare and benefit cuts will affect people…..

Can you tell us a bit about your job and what you do? 

“I’m a housing support officer, based in Lambeth**. I work with single homeless people. Historically, we could just contact probation and various services that you would then build up a relationship with, who knew your type of client that would fit in support housing, because in support accommodation you have tenants who are sharing kitchens and bathrooms and things like that. There are some self-contained places but most are shared, so you might go and share in a six-bedded house.

Photo: www.theguardian.co.uk

“So the tenants all come through this housing panel. Initially, they are assessed. They will often be in a hostel first which can be quite chaotic because of drug and alcohol or mental health issues.

“From there they come into support housing which is essentially final stage support accommodation. They can stay there for up to two years but our aim is to support them and see through addressing any of their drug and alcohol issues. By that time you would expect them to be engaged and perhaps on abstinence programmes. Obviously there are cases where people relapse but, you have to really build a rapport with people. The whole idea is helping people to change, and facilitating that through having some settled accommodation and offering support, sometimes around general things like self-care, because sometimes you have people spend all their JSA (Job Seekers Allowance) on frozen food, so it’s about daily living skills. But then more importantly now, most services have attached employment to the service. So there’s an expectation.

“But it’s quite structured. They have structured support meetings with the support worker, risk assessments and really you’re trying to help them make changes in their life. So it’s about a counseling model underneath it, because you’re often having to challenge behaviour that’s born out of childhood.”

How does the government fund this?

“All of these kinds of services are funded by what’s called ‘Supporting People’. It’s national, but the SP funds are allocated to individual boroughs, so they make an assessment for where the funding goes. Some might put more money into hostels, some into support housing or ‘floating support.’ ‘Floating support’ is much less intensive and much more short-term. So people who are living in their own homes and get into debt or have a crisis – again either drug, alcohol or mental health, we help in trying to maximise their benefits and get them linked in to relevant services and then the floating supporter goes onto another case.

“With support housing it’s still much more about having a relationship with the tenant where you can have one-on-one meetings on a weekly basis and visit them. So in a sense it’s probably more costly and I’m not sure what’s going to happen to all the funding. There’s definitely a sense of insecurity. People’s wages have been pushed down drastically. Two years ago I was on £30,000 and in one foul swoop I lost five grand and I went back to where I was nearly 10 years ago.

“These organisations, like homeless charities, they’re having to compete for the contract, and so one of the things they do is cut the costs of staffing and therefore you’re not getting as good quality staff, people are having to take on a bigger caseload, some staff are less experienced and so on, so there’s huge implications. But I think there’s a general insecurity among housing workers that their jobs are at risk.

“I was working for another organisation two years ago. I was there 10 years. They lost the contract and some of the projects I managed. The contract involves the workers plus the service so the company that won the contract, the service and the workers transfer over to the new organisation through a scheme called TUPE. But some of the bigger housing associations aren’t recognising TUPE. So there’s a lot of concerns around Union workers that TUPE are not protecting staff, because there are companies trying to get around it.”

How has your job changed in the last few years?

“Supporting People emerged in 2005 and one of the biggest criticisms is that work became less creative – it was very target driven. You had to demonstrate certain actions. There was a huge increase in paperwork. Now obviously it’s important to record how you work with tenants. But now it felt as though it was becoming a paper trail. So you’re much more office based than previously.

Image: gov.uk

Image: gov.uk

“I think that’s always driven by central government – how they want to deal with homeless people. So you’re trying to fit the service around the expectation of central government. There were good things as well because sometimes people can end up rotting in the system, so there’s pros and cons.

“I think the biggest problem is people don’t get recognised for high levels of professionalism. For me, and I don’t think anyone would deny it, there are a lot less professional people coming into the service and they do not have the skills – the interpersonal skills, the motivational skills, the counseling skills that you need to be working with single homeless people. And often people who come into our services often have very disruptive and violent childhoods and there’s quite a skill to break that and build trust and as I say help people turn their lives around.”

So there was a big shift to more paperwork and targets. What would happen if you didn’t meet targets?

“There’s always a risk because it would come under performance. The things that people get pulled up about is either code of conduct or performance. So you can be a brilliant worker in other areas, but you’re too busy with tenants to fill forms out.

“You don’t need to communicate with anyone in order to monitor people, you just go on the system and see the three month support plan is done and the tenant has signed it. So my criticism is that people can just fill them in. To me that doesn’t prove that you’re at all engaging with the client, or doing anything creative because as long as you say ‘I discussed housing’, ‘I discussed mental health’ and so on it’s fine. It will reveal gaps if people looked at them but they just look at the targets. It can be very, very misleading.”

How have the needs of your clients changed?

“People are older than they were 13 years ago. What we did which was successful, because a lot of the young people’s projects and hostels have closed, we did a lot of preventative work. People would come in and you would work with them six months of the year and there was access to housing then, and that was a huge incentive to work with young people in saying that you don’t need to jump through hoops, you need to be able to demonstrate you can manage your rent. So you could have really good, quite positive targets for people to reach – like show you can pay your service charge each week.

“So that has changed a lot and it’s much older. And I think back then, 13 years ago, there were lots of flats available and there was a real incentive to move on. And I believe most of those we helped are still there. Whereas now, I think a lot of the people we are working with are a lot more entrenched in the system. We’re dealing with people with much longer-term drug and alcohol issues. People always had them but I think when you were working with them so young it could be really turned around more quickly, and now there isn’t the incentive of housing. It’s very limited and very difficult.”

*name has been changed  **location has been changed

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1) Failed austerity plan spells more cuts in Spending Review 2013

Chancellor George Osborne announced further cuts in the Spending Review on Wednesday, blaming the slow recovery on ‘lower than expected’ growth.

In a bid to save £11.5bn in 2015, cut-backs will be made on most of the country’s already reduced departments, with only education, defence and intelligence escaping the axe.

George Osborne Image: The Mirror

George Osborne Image: The Mirror

Some of the new measures for welfare included a 7 day wait in between a job loss and a claim (which could mean a wait of up to 38 days because Universal credit is paid monthly), weekly sign-ons and more time with job centre advisors, a national welfare cap set every four years by the government (taking into account inflation) and a requirement for all claimants to learn English before being eligible.

The review has been met with criticism from campaigners who say the reforms will increase poverty, use of food banks and also short term loan use, and also that the Chancellor was making political moves with the reforms, as they lie close to the next election.

To find out how welfare will be affected read more here. 

For a full report on the Spending Review read more here. 

2) Independent campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts, releases report on the DWP’s mis-use of statistics

Independent organiusation DPAC released a report that listed 35 cases where the DWP and it’s representatives gave false or mis-leading statsitsics relating to welfare and the benefits system.

They said in the report:

“We believe that this demonstrates a consistent pattern of abuse of official statistics by Ministers of the present Government to paint a false picture of benefit claimants in the UK in support of policies which are aimed at cost cutting to the detriment of jobless, sick and disabled people.”

Each case is presented, sourced and then dis-proven in the report. A ‘culture of truthlessness’ in the DWP perhaps?

Download the report here.

3) Job centre tells staff to sanction 30% of claimants each week 

Image: Welfare News Service

Image: Welfare News Service

A post made by Anti Bedroom Tax Protest In Scotland has raised serious concerns over the targets given to Job Centre staff over sanctions.

The post said:

I’ve just got back from Leith Job Centre in Edinburgh and have been told unofficially that a new manager started this week and she has instructed staff to put 30% of claimants on sanction EACH WEEK. The staff are up in arms but can’t do anything about it.

“I just want to warn everyone signing on to make sure their paperwork is in order so they have no excuse to catch anyone out. I’ve emailed my MP because as far as I know, they should not be working to sanction targets.”

Sanctions can dock or entirely remove benefit payments for up to two months, leaving claimants with no income. Since the coalition came to power there has been around 2.25 million sanctions brought against claimants raising fears that powers have been abused and sanctions imposed without reasonable condition.

See more about the post here.

4) Lord Freud offers direct payment ‘guarantees’ to social landlords  

In a talk at the Chartered Institute of Housing in Manchester, the minister for welfare, Lord Freud, agreed to concessions and guarantees for social landlords in a bid to appease them in light of the controversial policies introduced by the coalition government.

Lord Freud commented that ‘collaborations’ between the government and housing associations were essential to making the Universal Credit system successful, and revealed plans to identify tenants who should be exempt from direct payments. In these situations, benefits would be passed directly to landlords to prevent tenants from falling into arrears.

Thousands of tenants have already fallen into debt since the bedroom tax was introduced a couple of months ago. However, while the plans offered up by Lord Freud will see landlords paid correctly, tenants will still fall into poverty, and direct payment may be abused by landlords who want to charge a rent as close to the top bracket of housing benefit as possible.

Read more about this story here. 

Lord Freud Image: The Guardian

Lord Freud Image: The Guardian

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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1) A third of Britons worry they will not be able to keep up with rising housing costs

Research from the Chartered Institute for Housing (CIH) and Ipsos Mori has found that 10.3 million Britons are worried about meeting mortgage payments and rent prices in 2014.

Over 11 million people said that the situation was causing them stress, and homeless charity Shelter reported a 40% increase in calls to its helpline from people worried about meeting rent or payments.

The LSL buy-to-let index shows that rent prices in England and Wales are increasing faster than the rate of inflation, with an average 3.5% increase in the last 12 months. These increased rents, cuts to benefits and reforms such as the bedroom tax, have pushed people into debt, with an increasing amount of social landlords reporting that tenants have gone into arrears.

However, there are more cuts to come – with the introduction of the benefit cap due to start later this year.

Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the CIH said: “The fact that one in three people are worried they won’t be able to pay their mortgage or rent next year – and almost a quarter are already concerned about their ability to pay at the moment – is extremely disturbing.

The number of people worried about their housing costs will continue to rise because we have failed to build enough new homes for decades. Recent government announcements have shown ministers understand the importance of fixing our housing system, but we need housing to be understood as a national priority if we are to have any chance of dealing with this deepening crisis.”

Read more about this story here.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

2) Call for national demo against NHS cuts at Tory conference

Britain’s biggest unions have united in support of a protest against NHS cuts and privatisation, to be held outside the Conservative Party conference in Manchester later this year.

Unite, Unison and GMB will join with campaign groups outside the conference on September 29th.

Campaigners hope to highlight and stop a dismantling of the NHS, with increased cuts, job losses and a fragmentation of the service which critics say will allow private sector companies to buy up parts of the health service.

Read more about this story here.

2) Judges asked to explain decisions on fit-to-work appeals

The government is asking judges making decisions on appeals from those found fit-to-work, to explain their decisions, in the hope that they can monitor and improve the process.

The controversial assessments carried out by ATOS, have been condemned by campaigners who say they are weak and often wrong, with many decisions being over-ruled at appeal.

Reports and feedback from judges will be analysed by the government this summer.

Read more about this story here.

3) Unison starts judicial review against ‘brutal’ charges for employment tribunals

The country’s biggest public sector union, Unison, has applied for a judicial review against new rules to charge workers £1,000 to take companies to tribunal.

The fees, which will affect workers seeking trial for unfair dismissal or discrimination, are due to be rolled out by the coalition next month.

However, there are concerns that the excessive fees will stop some employees from seeking help for genuine grievances, and will cover the backs of big business.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary said, “They want to take away our employment rights with punitive charges to access justice” adding that Unison would pay the fee for any of it’s members upfront if needed.

Read more about this story here.

Unison General Secretary - Dave Prentis Image: The Mirror

Unison General Secretary – Dave Prentis Image: The Mirror

5) Over 4,000 turn-out for the People’s Assembly against Austerity

On Saturday, over 4,000 people joined in a movement against austerity at the Central Hall in Westminster. The day was filled with talks and debates from  a range of speakers including Union Leaders, councillors, journalists and campaigners from up and down the country.

As well as providing a space for people to unite and discuss the problems of government and cuts, the People’s Assembly hopes to now help unite and mobilise local groups to take action against the attack on welfare being carried out by the coalition. Several days of action have been announced, including a day of civil disobedience on November 5th. There was even talk of creating a new political party formation, in light of Labour’s lack of assurance to reverse the cuts.

Find out more about the People’s Assembly and read their first draft statement here.

One of the most inspiring talks was given by comedienne, writer and actor Francesca Martinez, who has also been a supporter of the WOW petition which calls for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform, and a fairer deal for sick and disabled people affected by the reforms.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Tower Hamlets Protest Begins to Gather

Tower Hamlets Protest Begins to Gather

With lower numbers than expected due to a protest in Woolwich, locals from around the Tower Hamlets area gathered outside the Housing Association to make a stand against welfare reforms last Saturday. Despite the smaller turnout, the day united communities around the country to make a stand.

We spoke to some of the people there. Here’s what they said:

“This is the place from which people are told that there’s nowhere in Tower Hamlets that you can be re-housed and actually you’re going to have to go to Northampton or Luton or wherever. And that is happening everyday, and that’s partly why we chose to come here. Because of the bedroom tax and council housing tax, a lot of people are being evicted. We are all fighting benefit cuts and we all need to stand together and that’s why we’re all standing here today.”

Eileen, Tower Hamlets Benefit Justice Organiser

“I have a spare bedroom. A small, spare bedroom. I’ve lived where I’ve lived for 30 years. Because of ill health, I can’t move. There’s nowhere in my housing co-op with one bedroom. I’m here because it’s criminal what the government are doing. It’s a huge swathe on honorable, hardworking people.

“We need to get the message out to the people that they are not alone, and get them on the streets. The Tories will realise that though we are not well-off, or are ill or disabled, we are a force to be reckoned with.

“A good judgement of society is how it treats it’s weak.”

              Elsbeth, Protestor

“I’m not affected by it personally, because I’m a pensioner. But I think the big problem is that there aren’t any places for people to move to. If they’ve got an extra bedroom there’s no housing available in Tower Hamlets. We’ve got thousands of people on the waiting list.

“A woman just stopped who has two sons. She’d been waiting 8 years for a two bedroom place. It just doesn’t work because there are queues of people waiting for smaller places. They haven’t really thought it through. They don’t know the impact it’s going to have on people.

“Same with the NHS. I’m involved with trying to stop what they’re doing to the NHS as well. It all kind of fits together, like, ‘If you can get it through and people don’t realise what you’re doing to them, just get on and do it.’ The [government] don’t have any morals it seems to me. Fortunately, I’m not affected by it myself, but I can see lots of people suffering badly because of it.

“And who’s the money going to? The thing is the rents are too high – that’s the problem. If we can get the rents controlled and lowered, they wouldn’t be such a drain on the benefits. Because housing benefit pays very rich landlords a lot of money. So that’s the basic fault with it. What we need is more housing and controlled rents, and that would solve the problem. Not picking on individuals.”

                                                                         Myra, 80, Protestor

“I have been out campaigning for the last three years because we have a dangerous, sociopathic group of people in charge of government.

“We need to let the people speak, but they won’t until there are massive numbers of deaths, which will happen because they are also decimating our 999 services.”

                                                                                                       Gabriel, Protestor

“I’ve been affected by the bedroom tax, and I will be affected by the benefit cuts. And we’ve got the council tax. So it’s going to be three – the bedroom tax, the benefit cut and the council tax.

“I can’t afford to pay it. I’m not in a position to take in a lodger. They suggested people take in a lodger. It’s not really going to solve the problem, because if you have a lodger, you’re still going to have your benefit cut anyway. There was a time when you had a network or a community. The networks now are not necessarily that safe to say I’m going to take Tom, Dick or Harry or Lucy or Jane in, because you have to think about who you’re sharing your house with.

“It’s easier to attack the weaker ones rather than the stronger ones. They need to build more housing, and not luxury flats. They need to assume that everybody who is on these benefits is NOT a lazy sit around. A lot of people are becoming unemployed and they can’t live on fresh air.

“And it doesn’t matter who you are, wherever you’re working. If you’ve worked, and you’ve paid your tax, you’re entitled to have some relief if and when you‘re not well, that’s why it was there wasn’t it?

“And when I’m saying the benefit, that goes down to the NHS and the Fire Brigade and whatever. And they’d all be willing for us to burn in our extra bedroom. That’s what they’re trying to do if you don’t move out. But where can we go?”

 Margaret, Petitioner

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

The Sun - Exclusive

     Photo: The Sun [Online] – http://www.thesun.co.uk

This week The Sun broke the story that Westminster Council has been paying huge sums of money to house homeless families in 4-star hotels including the Jury’s Inn, Chelsea where a reported £248,000 was spent in January and February and the Copthorne Tara, Kensington where £171,000 had been spent in two months.

The Sun pointed the finger at a loophole in law being abused, which requires councils to put up homeless families in hotels when there is no other accommodation.

Read The Full Story from The Sun Here.

There is no getting away from the fact that this is a ridiculous amount of money for temporary accommodation, and hopefully Westminster Council will strongly re-assess its spending in light of this information going public.

However, there is a lot to be learned from what The Sun said, and did not say, to provoke certain reactions:

     “Officials are picking up tabs for rooms costing £475 a day EACH in swanky four-star accommodation where hard-working families could never afford to stay on holiday.”

Homeless Put Up In 4-Star Hotels, The Sun, 12th May 2013

From the outset, this article, like many before it, is divisive and pits those on welfare against those not. Hard working families are the good, the out of work and homeless are the bad, and they are getting things they don’t deserve.

The term ‘taxpayers’ and ‘taxpayer’s money’ is used several times to further provoke tension between those in work and those out of work. Yet, we did highlight in last week’s Media article that most of the benefit spending for employment goes to those in work.

To further massage these negative ideals The Sun suggests that these homeless families are deliberately declaring themselves homeless to avoid the new benefit cap. And it seems The Sun got this opinion from someone with authority?

“Experts say families are dodging strict new rules on how much housing benefit they can claim by declaring themselves as homeless rather than move to cheaper areas.

The council has a duty to put them up under a different law – resulting in massive bills to be footed by taxpayers.”

Homeless Put Up In 4-Star Hotels, The Sun, 12th May 2013

These experts are never identified, neither are their fields of expertise.  And while the next line, written in italics (as in the original aricle), seems to be a potential quote from said expert, it has no quotation marks. This is a common used tactic in tabloids. ‘Experts say…’ leads you to believe that they have sought professional opinion, but the fact that they have not named the organisation or the expert themselves could mean that the writer is speaking about a colleague or a boss who is an ‘expert’ at coming up with carefully crafted sentences that make you believe what is not there.

Clever way of making The Sun’s leanings felt with a bit more weight though.

Later, The Sun reveals that the number of people that Westminster council needed to re-house had “nearly trebled from 30 a month to 80”. The reason behind this being the benefit cap that came into effect last month, meaning that some families could no longer afford their private rent prices and thus, became homeless.

Councillor Jonanthan Glanz explained in the article “When people initially approach us we need to house them for short periods, usually locally, while we assess their case.”

Obviously this does not mean that the money spent, particularly on longer term stays, is justified. Perhaps, re-assessing cases whilst families are in their initial accommodation could prevent the spending of £375 a night in some hotels though, as their benefits were nowhere near this.

Photo: www.theguardian.co.ukPhoto: www.theguardian.co.uk

What The Sun didn’t say.

The elephant in the room was well dodged by The Sun in this article. Not once did it mention the severe shortage of affordable housing in the UK.

Housing benefit costs have soared to nearly double in ten years – from £12.6bn in 2003, to £24bn. It is understandable that these costs need to be tamed, but private rents are high (and growing) and with less council houses being built, the prospect of affordable housing grows ever smaller.

Last year, the Institute for Public Policy Research said that for every £1 the government spends on building houses, £19 is spent by the taxpayer on rent subsidy.

Some claimants facing the bedroom tax have been doggedly searching for smaller accommodation to avoid the new cost. However, a lack of one and two bedroom housing has made this impossible for some, forcing them to foot the bill, even when they are willing to move.

But The Sun didn’t explain any of this.

The Sun has never been afraid to reveal its political stance, however much that has swung and changed over the years. Currently, the paper backs the Conservatives, and consequently, the welfare reforms. Which is worth remembering when the paper chooses to highlight and hide certain things in its stories.

Fitting, that this week also sees the release of new research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in a report entitled:

“Tough On People In Poverty – new report shows public’s hardening attitude to people on welfare.

The report reveals that the public have become “increasingly likely to say that individual characteristics rather than societal issues cause poverty”, with more believing that lack of willpower and laziness is to blame for unemployment, and more people believe that welfare recipients are often undeserving.

“The stark findings of this report highlight the increasingly tough stance people are taking against people in poverty. We appear to be tough on those experiencing poverty, but not tough on its causes.”

Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of JRF,Tough On People In Poverty,2013

The comments made by readers at the bottom of articles seem to mirror the tabloid’s intentions. As The Sun did not do a ‘Best Rated’ and ‘Worst Rated’, I have taken these snapshots from the same story in The Daily Mail to show what is most agreed with and what is not.

Following in the sensationalist tow of the tabloids, readers fill in the gaps with pre-approved subjects of moral panic, as seen in the ‘Best Rated’ comments. Here, it is those on benefits and immigrants. In other cases, terrorism and foreigners, paedophiles, hoodies etc. Subjects designed to hit unabatedly on readers’ core sensitivities, all whilst maintaining the integrity of the reader as the good. Creating divisions and fearmongering, and backed up by no specific expert.

The “Worst Rated” are from those suggesting that the cause is a lack of affordable housing and ask for apathy.

Perhaps, after years of exaggeration, moral panic and division, some readers are doing the writers’ job themselves:

 Best rated:Best Rated

Worst Rated:

Worst Rated

KS

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