The Chancellor, George Osborne, has today set out his UK Budget for 2016, and I watched with a lump in my throat about what he would say about homelessness.
Announced was £115,000,000 to help the homeless and this is how he told the British public: “…because under this government we’re not prepared to let people be left behind, I am also announcing a major new package of support worth over £115 million to support those who are homeless and reduce rough sleeping.”
I do welcome this step towards ‘reducing’ homelessness, however I think there was a major underlying disregard to the subject. Just reducing rough sleeping doesn’t strike me that it is a top priority for the Government, and Osborne spent just 10 seconds of his 1 hour 3 minute Budget statement announcing his plan. Looking at the Budget 2016 Red Book on pg. 42, you can see in a bit more detail a breakdown of this spending and for convenience, I have copied it here:
It looks nice, it looks fairly glossy but what exactly does it mean? The Government want to build 2,000 new units of accommodation across the UK which house the most vulnerable homeless people but where these are is unclear. Because of the way homeless statistics are collected and fudged, I would imagine places like Worcester or Hereford will get a very small, if any, consideration for this plan. Rural areas like the two Shires mentioned don’t tend to have high rates of homelessness compared to urban cities – according to Government but whether this is a true reflection of the real picture, I would suspect not.
Because many homeless support services in Britain are commissioned through Local Authorities, it means that they rely on Councils to have sufficient Central funding to then pass this money onto Third Sector organisations. Local Authorities spending is going to be cut even more over the next 4 years until 2020 which puts housing support services under threat. I know a large number of services working with homeless people in the UK have really struggled since 2010 and the Government’s Austerity Programme came into force, and it has made the support for the homeless become less quality and even less quantity.
“I’m happy with the £115 million for homelessness but we don’t know the details, or where it will be spent yet. Two thousand extra units for homeless people is positive, but they need to realise it’s not just the big cities with this problem. Yes, it’s promising, but budgets say one thing and then do another five minutes later – let’s see.”
With some support of what I said, Leader of the Opposition (Labour) Jeremy Corbyn said the following in his Budget response immediately after Osborne delivered.
“Whilst we welcome the money that will be set aside for homelessness. It is the product of under-investment, under-funding of Local Authorities, not building enough council housing and not regulating the private rented sector that has lead to this crisis. We need to tackle the issue of homelessness by saying that everyone in this society deserves a safe roof over their head”
(Click for video, this is mentioned from 10.21mins)
Whilst I support most of what Corbyn has said except just saying everyone deserves a safe roof doesn’t directly tackle the issue, it just sets the end result. At least he spent slightly more time mentioning this under-discussed issue on Parliament time than George!
A number of key priorities form my Homeless Awareness Campaign, and they are some of the many factors in the homelessness topic. In no particular order, they consist of:
- Education for young people around homelessness.
- The general public to realise the realities of homelessness and rough sleeping.
- Anyone can become homeless so educating around how to reduce the risk is vital.
- A need for better support to current homeless young people, as they are potentially more vulnerable than their adult equivalent.
- Changing public perception to homelessness and stating rough sleeping is not the only way people sleep at night.
- Making the public aware of the complex legislation around homelessness and housing for people who fit the ‘priority need’ and ‘non-priority need’ categories and
- “Getting homelessness into the hearts of MP’s, like it’s in the heart of me”.
Both Labour and Conservatives today have ignored the web of issues which fall under the homeless umbrella and that justifies even more why my Campaign and those of agencies/organisations in the sector exist and continue to challenge.
My statement in response to the Budget is not as comprehensive as other organisations, however it really sets out why I remain unhappy about the commitments made by politicians in this Parliament on both sides of the House.
Through my Campaign, I call on the Government to instruct Local Authorities look at the empty properties that are in their area and find ways of how to make these habitable for the homeless to stay when they have no other safe haven. This would see less derelict buildings and money actually generated through housing benefit and other financial support accessible for homeless people – but more importantly more independence and stability for those who have for the most, become homeless unexpectedly and remain hidden out of society.
I will continue this utterly vital work alongside and with support from St Paul’s Hostel CEO Jonathan Sutton, MP for Worcester Mr Robin Walker and Strategic Housing Manager of Worcester City Council Nina Warrington to help make the homeless environment in the Worcester area more resourced and better networked so we can support the homeless more. This includes my number one priority for Worcester City and that is establishing a sector-run Homeless Forum, with stakeholders, including service users, sitting on.
Having a Homeless Forum will mean that duplication of housing and homeless services would be less likely to happen, and any gaps in the homeless provision found and filled. The voice of the homeless population also need to form part of this Forum, and working this to be championed by all agencies.
Until we know a comprehensive breakdown of this £115m spending committed for tackling homelessness in Britain, there is only large speculation about where and how it will be spent. I will look very carefully at any news coming out of Government sources around this issue and react accordingly. It is very promising that the DCLG Inquiry into Homelessness is moving quickly and they have accepted the #HugosEarthquake official response to their written evidence and this will hopefully affect the decisions made in the coming weeks and months.
Thank you for reading, and I welcome any comments or feedback about this response.
Published: 16th March 2016 – 22.30 GMT