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

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

 

Denying 18-21 year olds the right to claim housing benefit is bad, bad news, and bad, bad policy

At the very time when rough sleeping numbers are rising nationally, the government has announced plans to end the automatic right of 18-21 year olds to claim housing benefit.

In a week with so much else happening (Brexit vote in the House of Lords, Theresa May in Scotland, Northern Ireland elections, Trump) someone must have thought it was the ideal time to bury bad news. This is bad, bad news and bad, bad policy.

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.

img_4847Of course there will be exceptions made for certain categories of young people allowing them to claim (such as if parents are abroad and the young person can not ‘go home’).

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.”

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.

How does society allow people to sleep rough in freezing conditions?

Today I received an email from a colleague who lives and works in Hastings. I would like to share it with you:

“This morning my phone (how does my phone know these things) told me that it was minus 5 degrees as I stepped out for my walk to work. It was dark as I set out.

“During my walk I witnessed two sights that will stay with me today.

“One created by the Earth, the stunning sunrise over a beautiful calm sea (my photo doesn’t do it justice).

hastings-sunrise

“The second sight, created by Humans (I was going to say Human Kind, but there is no “Kind” in this). Rough sleepers bedded down. Remember my phone was saying it was minus 5.

rough-sleepers-hastings

“This second sight makes my heart sink. How do we as a society allow people to have to sleep rough in this weather. I do not know if SWEP is currently activated in Hastings. It was for the Thursday night we had snow, but I see these rough sleepers every morning including the Friday after the snow. It was de-activated on the next day (the Friday).

“Does the Government or DCLG check that local authorities are actually activating SWEP (the protocol that requires emergency shelters to open in severe weather conditions)? Probably not as they don’t make sure local authorities are applying homelessness legislation under Part VII of the Housing Act.”

(For information, Part VII of the Housing Act includes an interim duty on housing authorities to ensure that accommodation is available for an applicant (and his or her household) pending a decision as to what duty, if any, is owed to them under the Housing Act. Rough sleeping is not appropriate accommodation. It is costly for local authorities and it can be difficult to source such accommodation, but the legal duty remains. BHT’s Advice Centres in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings are there to prevent homelessness, enforce tenants rights, and ensure that local authorities honour their legal duties).