Campaign Response to DCLG Inquiry into Homelessness

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‘#HugosEarthquake’ is a social media and blog-based Homeless Awareness Campaign mainly related to young people and homelessness. My name is Hugo Sugg and I have experienced homelessness first hand at the age of 18 when an abusive relationship with a partner broke down in 2008 and had to move out. I was housed after three months of living on friend’s sofas and spare beds – sleeping one night on the street and dropping out of education to focus on staying alive. I was eventually housed by a youth organisation called SHYPP (Supported Housing for Young Peoples Project) in Herefordshire.

When I was homeless, I experienced a series of mental, emotional and physical issues including want to commit suicide, losing my hair, losing my social circles, not finishing Further Education and my general wellbeing hitting rock-bottom. Since this happened in 2008/9, I have been working towards getting back on my feet and now at the University of Worcester doing my BA Hons in Youth and Community Work, living in private rented accommodation.

Since November 2015, I have been running a Homelessness Awareness Campaign, mainly to do with Young People who find themselves homeless. Through my experience and homeless narrative I have been able to influence public opinion in the City of Worcester and beyond via a series of blog posts, newspaper articles, TV appearances and backing from my Constituent Conservative MP Mr Robin Walker.

Perceptions of homeless people and homelessness as a wider issue has been challenged in my local area through the power of my confidence in change. The biggest way of evidencing this change of opinion has been when I challenged my Local City Authority, Worcester City Council about comments their Housing Manager made on local radio. On a Wednesday afternoon, the Housing Manager was heard saying “[giving hats and scarfs to rough sleepers on the streets] is supporting people in a lifestyle choice they have made” to which I became very angry as it came days after I stood outside the City Council offices giving a public talk to the people of Worcester in relation to homelessness.

The Council Manager’s stance was heard by myself and thousands others via radio and local newspapers, with uproar and calls for apologies and resignations. After the high profile coverage my Campaign had garnered in the previous weeks – I used the power of this to challenge the Local Authorities comments and call for a public apology. On the Friday afternoon (two days after the original comment), the City Council apologised through a statement on their website, announcement in the local press and returning on the same radio programme it was initially mentioned on – and made a public apology stating her ‘insensitive remarks’. Although I cannot hold all the credit for this landmark apology, I have used it as a buoyancy to enable the ingrained discriminatory cultural views of homelessness to be challenged.

When I saw the opportunity to be able to input into a Government Review into the Causes of Homelessness and the approaches to tackle it – I was very keen to give an official Campaign response using references and personal experiences. Please find below my answers to the different points, detailed under each heading.

 

Differing causes of homelessness for households, couples and single people.

As many organisations working with the homeless say, people become homeless for a number of reasons and I will be mainly focussing on Young People who find themselves in this horrendous position. The Department of Communities and Local Government in partnership with other agencies have developed a Positive Pathways Model which is being rolled out over Local Authorities across the Country.

In the research carried out to create the Positive Pathway Model – it is recognised Young People become homeless due to:

– Tension with parents/guardians/carers

– Relationship breakdown with partner

– Welfare reform

– Poverty

– Financial Hardship as an individual or within the household

– Conflict with household members about lifestyle choices the Young Person makes

– Overcrowding

– Substance Misuse and

“By having a positive mind frame, homelessness can turn from being a lifestyle to being just a hurdle in a person’s life”

#HugosEarthquake response to DCLG Committee into the Causes of Homelessness and the approaches taken by National and Local Government to prevent and tackle it.

– Physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse in the ‘family’ home.

These aren’t the only reasons however the most common as per the Department of Communities and Local Government.

It is really important at this point to note that homelessness can happen to anyone and are statistically two wage payments away from crisis. Mediation with the household members can be a crucial way of holding people in the home, however this cannot always be possible. Depaul UK in their 2011 report ‘Homeless prevention, can we afford not to’ states that:

 ‘The majority of homeless 16-17 year olds owed main homelessness duty experienced some form of trauma during childhood’

 ‘Relationship breakdown with parents with 41% of those surveyed stating violence was involved in the breakdown’ and

 ‘57% of homeless Young People surveyed were not engaged in education, employment or training’.

These are very shocking statistics in the grim picture of reasons and causes of homelessness in the United Kingdom. In line with the Coalition/Conservative Majority Governments’ view on Early Help and preventative work, I believe it is imperative that preventative work is prioritised.

Homelessness amongst the young, single, families and couples since 2008 remains to be ever rising, in line with previous statistical increases after a state of Recession and austerity. In addition to the rise of homelessness because of the 2008 national Recession, there have been a number of Welfare Reform Bills passed by the Conservative-led Coalition (2010-2015) and Conservative Majority Government (2015-present) which have impacted on the lives of many in the United Kingdom. These reforms have seen a higher use of Foodbank usage, Sanctioning of Benefit, higher poverty in regions of the Country and homelessness.

According to statistics released in 2015, since 2010 homelessness has increased in the United Kingdom by 37%.

 

 

Steps to tackle homelessness

There are many ways to tackle homelessness, with the main one being preventative work. Informing people about the ways they can become homeless is vital in enabling the right information gets to people. However informing people what to do when they become homeless might be counterproductive if done improperly – they might want to become homeless because they know the system.

Another way to tackle this issue, is making housing legislation, especially around homelessness, more accessible and easier to understand. The various steps that a Local Authority have to go through to assess a homeless person need to be made more easily accessible.

Making more, funded and sustainable provision for homeless services is needed especially for young people. A service that I currently work for in a voluntary capacity is under threat of two thirds of their funding reduced by the Local Authority which will desperately effect young people’s survival if made homeless.

It’s not just homeless services that need to take steps to tackle this issue, it’s also health, school, social work, employers, Local Authorities, charities, private sector etc. because anyone can become homeless and for that – everyone should have a duty in stopping or at least reducing homelessness.

 

The relationship between homelessness and the availability of social housing

The Right to Buy scheme, Spare Room Subsidiary and Housing Benefit changes have altogether made it very difficult for homeless people being able to get housing after crisis and during recovery. Building more homes isn’t simply the answer as there needs to be really strict and watertight legislation and regulation in place. Social Landlords and Housing Associations are in a very difficult place with the Right to Buy scheme enabling tenants to buy their homes, thus making them more ‘secure’ in that area.

If a Right to Buy homeowner wishes to sell the house, they will clearly want money from that and therefore will be searching for buyers in the Private sector of housing and not back to the housing association so vulnerable people can purchase/rent.

 

There is an established culture around social housing and how negative it seems to say you live in a social housing property, however that needs to be tackled on a societal level and challenge the reasons as to why housing associations and social landlords aren’t bad organisations to be with.

 

Measures taken by local authorities to deal with the homeless

There needs to be a new way of counting homeless people to get a true figure. Monitoring and recording the number of first-point enquiries into housing advice, doing more frequent checks of places homeless/rough sleepers bed down for a night, treating the homeless like actual people and not a statistic or problem, fully explaining the housing legislation and law around homelessness, tenancies and housing; are all measures Local Authorities can take to improve the situation of the homelessness issue.

Being realistic about the problem is the best way to deal with the problem, and a few homeless people dislike the statutory Authorities because they treat the homeless like a problem rather than a ‘person in need’.

Local Authorities should not be pressured by central Government to reduce homelessness figures to obtain more funding, as this makes the whole topic of homelessness a commodity issue where the Authority has to ‘be the best’. These are real people we’re debating about in this Inquiry – care and consideration needs to be taken into account of that.

Enough pressure is mounted on Local Authorities and it simply isn’t fair that they have to take all the dissatisfaction of housing services from the people that use them. Their commissioned housing organisations need to be in place for longer than (a typical contract length of) 5 years so they can help work with the Local Authority in realising the real issues and problems these people face on a daily basis.

 

The re-establishment of the cross government Ministerial Working Group on Preventing and Tackling Homelessness

This needs to happen, regardless of the outcome of this Inquiry. By not having this Government-level Working Group, the issue of homelessness will remain under the radar more than it is currently. A Cross-Party makeup of that group, with guests from the field of homelessness/housing and people like myself who have experienced this issue first hand – would really allow for the Working Group to make real change to thousands of lives/families/young people/elderly who live and face these issues every day.

 

How levels of homelessness are monitored and reported

The P1E data doesn’t seem comprehensive enough for the purposes of tackling homelessness as what is seen on that data is only what has been inputted – which can be limited, altered or changed in some way. Approaching voluntary sector services about their numbers of homeless/enquiries gives a better understanding of the problem that is needing to be tackled.

Legislation around recording of data around homeless people needs to be tightened up with punishments and sanctions made for Local Authorities, statutory and voluntary agencies needing to be made and enforced. With accurate data can we really start tackling this issue and giving it the resources, time and energy needed to be able to reduce homelessness.

The Government need a better and more accurate collection of homeless data and also realise that there are more people who ‘sofa surf’ and become the ‘hidden homeless’ compared to the rough sleepers we see on our streets. These numbers need to be accounted for too as they may have the same number of, or more, issues than their rough sleeping counterparts.

A central system where all agencies who have a stakehold in homeless people’s lives, or people who may become homeless, can communicate and reference will pave the start of turning homelessness from problem solving for many to real help for all.


 

DCLG Committee Website: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/communities-and-local-government-committee/

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