PUBLISHED: 19th August 2016, 14:17 GMT.
Welcome to the official Campaign Response to the Commons’ Communities and Local Government Committee Inquiry into Homelessness 2016 – the first such Government committee inquiry for 11 years. The Campaign did submit a response during the beginning of the Inquiry and have found that, although not quoted in the Report itself, much of our response and concern has been mentioned in the final conclusion.
Firstly, the appreciation from the Committee of homelessness rising in the United Kingdom is positive. #HugosEarthquake also acknowledges this and wants to say that there are a number of factors as to how people become homeless and we all need to act. The Campaign also acknowledges that rough sleeping is the most common form of homelessness which the public see and this presents a ‘soft’ face to a far more entrenched and serious problem in Britain.
The Committee mention how there needs to be better data collected about homelessness figures, and the Campaign fully supports a move towards more robust collection of data through better reporting systems and more frequent ‘counts’ of rough sleepers and the ‘hidden homeless’.
Whilst the Report concludes that one key factor to a rise in youth homelessness (in particular) is because of the shortage of affordable housing, the Campaign would like to add to this by saying that not enough is being done to look at the support networks around the person. We believe that if the number of affordable housing increases, there also needs to be a balanced increase on the tenancy and personal support provided to the individual/s in those properties. With this balanced increase, the Campaign believes that this will sustain the transition between homelessness and independence.
The Report by the Committee acknowledges the importance of compassion and understanding from Local Authorities when they are dealing with people presenting as homeless. Through own experience, and hearing other cases, this is something which the Campaign very much supports. We believe there needs to be a clear level of understanding between staff and the often-complex situations the individual/s are in.
There is a recognition that those who do not meet the criteria to be housed by the Local Authority can be disrespected, and this has been the case too many times. The Campaign recognises that homelessness is not always someone’s fault, even if they are deemed ‘intentionally homeless’ by the Council. The Campaign would like to see a focus shift from finger-pointing to the individual standing in front of the Local Authority, to what issues present and distant past, have led to this situation. The Campaign reflects on homelessness research which states that homeless people tend to have a trauma in early childhood or adolescent years – and this needs to be considered very sensitively.
We agree with the Committee that the Government need to set out guidance about how to deal with people presenting as homeless, in a uniform fashion so no matter which authority you present at, you receive the same response and care. The Campaign also thinks that this needs to go further: The Government need to prioritise homelessness and push it higher up the political agenda. A key principle of #HugosEarthquake’s founder is “to get homelessness into the heart of MP’s, like it’s in the heart of [me]”, and we would like to recommend the general public lobby their MP to help bring this issue to the forefront of Parliament.
#HugosEarthquake has the approach in its philosophy that the issue of homelessness cannot be tackled through Government, funding and organisations alone – but instead with the assistance from the public too. Our ‘Somewhere In Summer’ 2016 Campaign has been focused on how the public can assist and recognise the issue of homelessness, particularly rough sleepers. We fully agree with the Chief Executive of St Mungo’s, Howard Sinclair, when he states in the Report “homelessness is everyone’s issue”. Our Campaign hopes to make this statement a true fact, and support the general public, organisations, Government and the vulnerable/homeless to achieve this.
Talked at length in the report is the many faces and pathways of homelessness and how these are split between personal and societal. Personal being relationship breakdown, addiction, mental health issues etc., whilst societal rests in the economy , levels of income vs. rent/house prices and reliability of income. The Campaign agrees and states that all of these reasons can contribute to the cause of homelessness, and that this therefore means that anyone can be a victim of homelessness, as a result of these factors.
Another aspect to the rise in homelessness recently can be attributed to the fact of the cuts and drastic reforms in welfare/benefit entitlement across all sections of society. The Report states the consequences of these actions which lead to the increasing numbers of homelessness, and the Campaign also supports this notion and wants Government Departments to assess this impact.
The Government position currently is Housing Benefit payment is paid directly to the tenant and then this is expected to be passed onto the landlord or housing association – however the Committee and Campaign agree that this can increase homelessness and the numbers of evictions, based on a possible lack of support or guidance in budgeting and prioritising finances.
Our Campaign believes assessment for a homeless applicant’s ‘vulnerability’ needs to be seriously considered. The current case law guidance states for Local Authorities to assess vulnerability based on comparison with ‘an ordinary street homeless person’. We believe that this is a subjective, non-personal and cruel approach to assessing the need of someone who is in a potentially dire situation. The Campaign is in discussion about how there might be a possibility around this, without a law change: If there was stable rented accommodation – allowing those who are not deemed vulnerable to move further down the list than priority, if they would be willing to house share with others in a similar situation.
The Campaign agrees with the concerns in the Report about the inconsistencies demonstrated by different Local Authorities when it comes to assessing a person’s vulnerability. We believe there needs to be more communication between the applicant and the Local Authority about their assessment, how they assess and what the outcome is likely to be – so as to allow the applicant source alternative housing or support. The Campaign team would be open to assisting Local Authorities or Government about this.
On housing people who are in need outside the boundaries of their Local Authority – the Campaign supports any housing solution to the applicant, however due consideration and understanding must be taken about the impact this will have on the individual/s. There is a long-held discussion about putting ‘vulnerable’ and in priority need applicants in Bed and Breakfast accommodation (within their area) by the Local Authority, and although this is 1. a temporary solution and 2. costly to the Authority and taxpayer, #HugosEarthquake does support this move for single applicants and couples who meet the relevant thresholds.
In the Report, it mentions about the complexities around homelessness and the issues associated like mental health and substance abuse. The Campaign has long recognised that mental health and substance misuse form a major role in the assessment for vulnerability, but also for the individual to access support – or support to access them. We wholly support the increase in raising awareness of mental health and the effects of substance misuse, and will support campaigns for either issue.
As a Campaign, we are fully aware that mental health issues aren’t always acknowledged because they are mostly non-physical and as a response to the Inquiry Report, will be putting mental health (which can include substance misuse issues) as a focus in the Campaign moving forward. In appreciation of the increase of awareness of these issues, the Campaign notes that mental health services aren’t currently fit for demand – and will be looking at ways we can help maximise support to the vulnerable, including looking into volunteers.
In the Report, there is a very worrying section around the vulnerability of homeless women and the link between them getting into unhealthy relationships or illegal activity just for accommodation that night. This issue is rightfully raised and the Campaign has taken note of this. We will ensure that the needs of homeless women are looked at carefully through our work and awareness campaigns and ensure we are able to signpost towards adequate support. Mentioned in the Report – Agenda, an alliance of organisations for Women and Girls at Risk, were a crucial aspect to the Inquiry and as a Campaign we will look at how to work with them.
As set out in our submission to the Inquiry – we fully support the work of a Parliamentary group set up about Homelessness and believe this has been created already. This can only provide a better understanding about the issue of homelessness to all Government Departments, civil servants and Ministers. On connection to the Government tackling the issue of homelessness, the Campaign would like to lend its support for reform of legislation to reduce homelessness and improve services which deal with the homeless however will be waiting until the newly-tabled Homelessness Reduction Bill 2016-17 has been published and make a Campaign response in relation to that document.
#HugosEarthquake therefore concludes that, on the most part, we agree with the findings of the Communities and Local Government Committee Report into Homelessness, and support the work being done by the various organisations and individuals mentioned. Homelessness is everyone’s responsibility, and not enough is being done by Government, Local Authorities and the general public to help tackle this Public Health Issue.
The Campaign has taken some points made in this Inquiry Report which will now form part of the overarching strategy direction for the Campaign and the work we do alone, and in collaboration/partnership.
We would like to thank the Communities and Local Government Committee for accepting our submission and publishing this Report, which can be found here (opens a new window). Any questions or feedback about this Official Campaign Response is welcomed, and can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for reading this Response from #HugosEarthquake. Our official social media Hashtag for this Response is #InquiryResponse.
#HugosEarthquake Campaign – Raising awareness of homelessness and providing better support to the homeless, especially young people.