People fleeing domestic violence, care leavers and those who are homeless could be required to take part in ’employability courses’ as a condition of accessing supported housing Lord Fraud has hinted today.
The Minister for Welfare Reform was giving a speech to the Chartered Institute of Housing discussing upcoming changes to funding for the supported housing sector. George Osborne has previously announced that the upcoming Benefit Cap will apply to those living in supported housing, meaning Housing Benefit payments will be slashed. Currently this benefit is used to fund the additional costs of providing this kind of accommodation such as staff and security costs. Homelessness charities have warned that almost half a million homes could be at risk when the cap on these payments is introduced.
In response the DWP have agreed to postpone the cap for one year whilst a review of supported housing funding is carried out. And whilst there were no clear policy announcements in Lord Fraud’s speech, the direction of travel is clear.
Whilst praising the work of many larger supported housing providers, Fraud says he want to “root out sub-standard treatment” on the “rare occassions” it exists hinting that for the first time that the government plans to meddle in service provision – and use funding cuts as a weapon. He also said that reforms offer an opportunity to think about a “quality and an outcomes focus” suggesting some form of performance related model, similiar to the disastrous Work Programme, is being considered.
Perhaps most chillingly Lord Fraud praised the work being done by the Bromford housing association that requires tenants to agree to a package of training and support as a condition of their tenancy. Fears have been rightly raised that this training could include unpaid work experience, raising the prospect of forced work in return for housing. According to the minister “Bromford are using their relationship with tenants to get them ready for the world of work and away from benefit dependency.”
Fraud also heaped admiration on known workfare exploiters the YMCA who he says “award points towards moving into a self-contained flat for engaging with education, training and employment.”
A report is soon to be published which will give us further indication of the government’s plans for supported housing. The DWP’s intentions are clear however. In the conclusion to his speech Fraud spoke of the his department’s determination to bring about a “lower welfare society” and that people should be given tools and support, but also ‘incentives’ to find and stay in work. For those on out of work benefits these incentives usually mean sanctions and workfare.
Lord Fraud talks a lot of shit and it is too soon to draw any firm conclusions about the government’s plans. But it is not difficult to imagine what any future reform might look like. Hostels given job outcome targets and the power to compel residents to attend work related activity – which could include workfare – as a condition of being given a bed looks like one likely scenario. The workhouse grows ever closer. Any attempt to introduce some form of work related activity or compulsory training as a condition of accessing supported housing must be fiercely resisted.
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