Category Archives: Poverty

Chaos In Supported Housing: Almost Half A Million Homes Under Threat As Ministers Dither

George-Osborne Social housing providers are warning that up to 440,000 homes are potentially at risk due to George Osborne’s plans to slash benefits intended to pay the rent of those living in supported housing.

In the Autumn Statement the Chancellor  announced that Housing Benefit for tenants living in socially managed housing would be capped at the same level as payments for those renting privately.  This cap is to include those living in some form of supported accommodation where high rents are charged to cover the additional costs of providing care or supervision.  With weekly Housing Benefit awards capped at less then £50 a week for single people under 35 in some parts of the UK, this will mean the potential closure of every women’s refuge and homelessness hostel along with supported housing schemes for pensioners and those with acute physical or mental health conditions.  The combined financial loss to social housing providers could be as high as £400 million according to housing industry spokespeople quoted in trade magazine Inside Housing recently – and this is assuming that those over pensionable age are excluded from the cap.  To date no-one from the Treasury, DWP or Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) appears to have said they will be.

The DWP have said that any shortfall in payments to cover rents will be made up by Discretionary Housing Payments.  This is money given to local councils which can be used to top up housing benefits of those affected by cuts already introduced such as the Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap.  Osborne himself has claimed there will be an additional money for these payments, believed to be around £70 million a year, but this will not come close to meeting the funding gap.  Just as importantly these payments are not ring-fenced and are discretionary – there will be no requirement by law for local authorities to meet people’s rents.  The implications are chilling  Without central control then any old swivel-eyed Tory Council could close a homelessness hostel or drug rehab project in their constituency simply by cutting off their income stream.

Perhaps most astonishingly – given that it is only now that the social housing sector has taken notice – is that this is a problem which is four years old.  Way back in 2012 the charity for domestic abuse survivors Women’s Aid warned that a combination of benefit caps and the reforms being introduced under Universal Credit would ‘decimate’ the women’s refuge system.  This led to Lord Fraud, the comedy toff brought in on the cheap to oversee welfare reforms, quickly pledging that payments for supported housing would continue under the current system.   Then followed a bitter row about what exactly the government means by supported housing, as well as concerns raised over funding for emergency temporary accommodation such as B&Bs.  Neither of these matters were ever fully resolved as DWP ministers dithered and dodged questions whilst homelessness charities and housing associations were too busy looking to profit from lucrative government contracts to pay attention to their impending destruction.

And so here we are again, except now homelessness has soared and over 100,000 children are living in expensive and insecure temporary accommodation.  These bed spaces are also under threat with DWP documents suggesting that housing benefit payments for temporary accommodation will now also be capped.  Previously the solution to temporary housing – which doesn’t have the same costs as supported housing but is more expensive than mainstream accommodation – was to allow an additional weekly payment of £40 to be added to housing benefit.  In the latest guidance aimed at social landlords explaining benefit changes however it states that homeless Universal Credit claimants in temporary housing will have their rents capped at the same level as those in the mainstream private sector.  There is no mention of additional funding.   So it is not just homelessness hostels, refuge’s and other supported housing that is under threat, but possibly B&Bs and private sector emergency accommodation.

Whilst these changes are terrifying and if implemented could lead to a street homelessness crisis that has not been seen before in a so-called developed economy, the DWP has a long way to go if this is truly what they want.  The cuts to housing benefits will not be implemented until 2018 and will only apply to tenancies signed after April this year.  This will prevent, at least for a couple of years, mass evictions.  But the biggest problem is that almost all of the people eligible for both supported and temporary accommodation would be classed as ‘statutory homeless’ if they were unable to find a roof over their heads.  This means that local authorities are bound, by law, to house them – there and then if they have nowhere to go that night.  There just won’t be any money to pay their rent.

In short, it’s a giant fucking mess and one the DWP have been trying to sweep under the carpet ever since Iain Duncan Smith’s half-baked reforms to the benefits system were first announced.  Expect another bodge as the realities of a modern social security system clash once again with the delusions of a Secretary of State who thought he could fix poverty by making people poorer.  The truth is this has probably only dragged on so long because no-one really believes that Universal Credit will ever be fully implemented anyway.  It sill might not be.  The tragedy, as Inside Housing reveals, is that this shambles is already having very real consequnces.  Social housing providers say that schemes to provide desperately needed new supported housing are currently on hold until the government makes it’s mind up about whether they should condemn everybody officially classed as ‘vulnerable’ to street homelessness or not.  Decisions, decisions.  What a bunch of cunts.

A march against the housing bill, which will decimate social housing, is taking place in London on Saturday January 30th.  More details on facebook, please spread the word.

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Over 100,000 Homeless Children – and the number living long-term in B&Bs doubles in a year

The number of homeless families with children who have been living in a B&B for over six weeks has leapt by 106% in just one year statistics released by the government reveal today.

The shocking report, which both charities and the Office for National Statistics say woefully under-estimates the scale of the problem, shows that over 100,000 children were homeless in the latest period with 68,560 households currently living in temporary accommodation.

Every single measure of homelessness is up, with the total number of households accepted as homeless between July and September this year hitting the highest levels seen so far under this government with a rise of 6% on the previous quarter*.  The most common reason for families becoming homeless was the ending of a tenancy by a private landlord.  A new benefit cap – meaning more housing benefit cuts – plus huge cuts to household incomes when Universal Credit is fully introduced mean the homelessness epidemic is only just getting started.

*These figures only include households accepted as homeless by local authorities.  In practice that means only those with children, over pensionable age or people with a serious health condition or disability.  They do not include nearly 2,500 households judged to be ‘intentionally homeless’ by councils, or the number of families who are homless but not in ‘priority need’ – just under 500o households.  The figures do not include single people sleeping on the streets – also at record levels – or the potentially hundreds of thousands of people sleeping on a friends sofa, squatting or living in an over-crowded family home.  You can view the statistics at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/statutory-homelessness-in-england-july-to-september-2015

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A Nasty Little Cut That No-one’s Talking About Will Demolish Social Housing For The Young

demolition

The destruction of social housing will not happen overnight, although it is likely to be largely gone within a generation or so.  Tenants with serious health conditions or those over pensionable age are probably safe for now as long as they die quickly enough.  When they do, and their properties become empty, then new legislation means the most expensive will be sold off.  Alongside increased Right To Buy sales, this will see the number of social houses available plummet – potentially by as much as 95% in one Central London borough.  Meanwhile fixed term tenancies will ensure that anyone who gets a council house is less likely to keep it for life meaning the flow of houses for potential sale is now embedded within the system.

But even these measures are not enough to ensure that the end of social housing happens as quickly as possible.  Something also needs to be done to lock the next generation out of socially managed homes.  So in last month’s Autumn statement George Osborne quietly slashed Housing Benefits for those under 35 who are eligible for social housing.

The Shared Accommodation Rate was first introduced by Labour who casually decided that anybody under 25 in private rented housing should only receive enough Housing Benefit to pay for a room in a shared house.  This was later extended by the Tories to all those under 35 with completely predictable results.  An early evaluation of how landlords were likely to respond to the move discovered that many were introducing policies of not letting to anybody under 35 at all –  whether in work or not – due to fears they would be unable to meet the rent if they became unemployed or took a pay cut.  Despite this shocking report, the cut went ahead as planned and no further evaluations have been carried out.  Street homelessness has risen to record levels since the policy was introduced.

In a savage and strategic move, George Osborne is now extending the Shared Accommodation Rate to the social housing sector* and the results will be devastating for those under 35.  The Shared Accommodation Rate in Sunderland is just £45 a week.  That is the most that a single person under 35 and without children can claim in Housing Benefits in the region.  In Outer East London it is £73.62, whilst in Birmingham it is just £56.77.

The average ‘social rent’ for a one bedroomed council or housing association flat in England is £76 a week. These kind of rents are being phased out however and replaced by so-called affordable rents, which on average cost £117 a week – far above the amount soon to be available in Housing Benefits for younger claimants.  This means it will not just be the private rented sector that under 35s on a low income are excluded from, but social housing as well.

This drastic cut means that three scenarios are possible.  The first is that council and housing associations could cut rents for those under 35.  This is not likely to happen.  Social housing rents are largely controlled by legislation and the recent 1% cut will not come close to making up the shortfall.

Another option is that social housing providers will attempt to bring rents down by splitting up larger properties amongst several young people – or that they will turn to the private sector to provide shared accommodation for young people in housing need.  The problem with this is that many of those under 35 who are eligible for help with housing are care leavers, people with mental health conditions, or those who have been through the hostel or women’s refuge system.  Often, though not always, these are people who have had difficult lives.  Shared accommodation is unlikely to be suitable for a young victims of abuse leaving care, domestic violence survivors or former rough sleepers. And few private sector landlords will be happy renting to gangs of young marginalised people, some of whom may display what social workers like to call ‘challenging behaviour’.

The third option is that these groups will be placed in temporary or supported housing, forever.  Or at least until they are 35.  This will be hugely expensive, but Osborne might even have that covered.  According to the charity Homeless Link the shared accommodation rate will also apply to those in supported housing such as women’s refuge’s or hostels for the homeless.  Rents in these kinds of accommodation are eye-wateringly high to pay for support staff, with the cost of this currently met by Housing Benefit.  If this benefit is cut then anywhere providing supported or temporary housing for those under 35 will close.

Homeless Link report that the government claim they will avoid this by exempting supported housing from the cut using Discretionary Housing Payments.  This is the sticking-plaster money given to local authorities in an effort to alleviate the worst of the homelessness caused by government policies.  The key word is discretionary – local councils are under no obligation to spend a penny of this money. Without legislation to ensure these payments go towards supported housing then any Tory council that decides they want to close every homeless person’s hostel or women’s refuge in their region will be able to do so at the stroke of a pen.

Of course there is also a fourth option, which is that young people will simply be left to fend for themselves.  This will mean the most troubled and alienated young (and not so young) locked out of housing completely or forced to remain in an abusive family environment or relationship.  Or left to freeze on the streets.  Perhaps George Osborne thinks they might as well get used to it.  Because with social housing being made both unworkable and unaffordable then a lifetime of homelessness and desperate housing insecurity threatens the next generation like never before.

*The Shared Accommodation Rate will only apply to those under 35 without children who sign a tenancy after April 2016 and the cut will then not be implemented until April 2018.  It will not apply to existing tenants.

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Not All Terrorists Carry Guns, But The Deaths From Osborne’s Cuts Will Be Just As Real

osborne-littleIt is hard to conceive how a Chancellor can look at people surviving on just a few pounds a day and decide it is them who must have their incomes cut to pay for a financial crisis caused by the rich.  What kind of fucking human being would do that?

These are people who may be struggling with a serious health condition, newly unemployed steel workers, the precariously self-employed or those on the lowest pay. These are to be the likely victims of the latest round of economic terrorism that George Osborne is set to inflict in Wednesday’s Autumn Statement.

Be in no doubt, this is terrorism.  Millions of people are now living in a state of stark and permanent panic as reckless Tory cuts strike randomly, demolishing lives, putting homes at risk, endangering health and tragically driving some to suicide. The callous assessments for disability benefits alone have led to 590 people taking their own lives researchers recently revealed in a report that should have brought this Government down.  Yet it was greeted with little more than a murmour.  The UK establishment, in all its guises, cares no more about the lives of the poor than the Isis death cultists cared about those they mercilessly gunned down in Paris last week.  A welfare state that destroys lives whilst masquerading as a safety net is the perfect weapon of class warfare.  The victims kill themselves, or disappear without trace under the burden of desperate poverty.

Such is the carefully constructed poverty trap that there is now almost no chance of escape.  There are just under 2 million people in the UK who are unemployed, and a further two million who don’t have a job and want one but do not meet the strict criteria of official unemployment.  Add to that a couple of million sick and disabled people or lone parents who are now being ordered to endlessly search for jobs. There are just 740,000 vacancies according to the Office for National Statistics.  If every one of those was filled tomorrow there would still be millions looking for work.

Not that finding a job will help the poorest as housing costs soar and in-work benefits are demolished.  Only if you can climb to the ranks of the so-called squeezed middle will you perhaps be able to grab some quality of existence, and even if you get there you’d better not get sick, become disabled or lose your job.  And you won’t ever get there.  Try walking into a Jobcentre and saying you’d like to re-train as a plumber or take an IT course that will actually get you a job rather than just teach you how to turn on a fucking computer.  When they’ve stopped laughing they will point you in the direction of a private training company, who want thousands of pounds, and for which there are no students loans available.  Even then, if you manage to raise the money, the Jobcentre may order you to leave to attend full time workfare instead.

Those who have had benefits sanctioned for missing a meeting, or failing to attend workfare, now survive on around £41 a week – and only then if they qualify for Hardship Payments. Those under 25 who are looking for work will fare little better with a weekly income barely over £50 whilst the older unemployed receive just £73.10.  Some of these claimants will be paying the Bedroom Tax, as well as Council Tax out of that sum.  Others will be frantically trying to make up rent payments to cover Housing Benefit shortfalls as private rents soar and benefits intended to pay them are capped and frozen.

Any further cuts to Housing Benefits will be devastating and could plunge some into a negative income as unavoidable costs like rent, water and Council Tax leave them with no money at all, just a steadily increasing debt.  This will include the working poor who have little more to live on than those on the dole, making a mockery of Iain Duncan Smith’s claims that his reforms are making work pay.  Whether Osborne cuts Tax Credits, Housing Benefits, or child benefits this week will make little difference to those affected.  Their lives are earmarked for economic destruction however the Chancellor chooses to cut.

In the face of such an onslaught we have no choice but to fight back.  There is no slack in the social security system left at all – in fact there never was any to begin with.  Street homelessnes is already at record levels and the full impact of the last round of cuts has not yet been truly felt.  Gideon Osborne is playing a dangerous game that could leave millions with nothing left to lose and no futures to plan for.  The rich may sleep comfortably in their mansions tonight.  But there will be consequences, there must be, because one death was too many and we cannot allow this to continue.

As ever Class War are taking te fight direct to the pampered elite calling for a picket of George Osborne’s family business to coincide with his speech on Wednesday.  Meet outside Osborne & Little, 204 King’s Road, Chelsea, SW3 from 12-2pm on Wednesday 25th November. Spread the word.

Apologies for the extended absence.  Back to normal now hopefully.

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With Hipster Friends Like @crackandcider Homeless People Don’t Need Enemies

killing-with-kindnessPicture yourself trying to get to sleep on a hard concrete pavement, whilst biting wind and rain swirls around you and the risk of abuse, arrest and even violence is ever present.  Imagine thinking that this could go on for ever, that you have no-one and nothing left, and that only the instinctive fear of death is preventing you from taking that final step.  So you do what half the country does before going to bed.  You have a fucking drink.

This is how a life on the streets begins and as weeks turn into months routines and habits, bad and good, develop.  You might learn where you can get free food, make allegiances, and hopefully genuine friends.  Perhaps you spend a few nights, or even months in a nightshelter or hostel.  Perhaps you get kicked out for breaking one of the endless petty rules like not being back in time for curfew or having a sneaky can of lager.  Or you get beaten up, or piss off someone who might beat you up if you don’t disappear.  Homelessness hostels are strange places, often full of tolerance and even love, but they are not safe spaces.  All it takes is a vindictive charity worker or a violent argument and you can be back on the streets in a heartbeat.

Homelessness strikes when lives fracture, whether due to relationship break up, debt, eviction or domestic abuse.  It often happens to those who have lived through harrowing circumstances – ex-squaddies scarred by war, refugees who have seen loved ones slaughtered,  kids who grew up in care or were abused in the family home.  At the heart of the problem however is money, and a society that values that above all else.  Landlords refusing to accept tenants on benefits, eye-watering deposits to secure even basic accommodation, the chronic lack of social housing and ever more vicious benefit cuts – these are the reasons that street homelessness has risen to record levels over the last five years.

Homelessness endures because the scant social structures in place to prevent it focus on the symptoms – the perceived individual failings of homeless people – not the causes.  Just like Iain Duncan Smith blames unemployed people for a lack of jobs, politicians and the charity bosses who suck up to them for funding blame homeless people themselves for their plight.  To do otherwise would be to acknowledge their own role in creating the homelessness crisis.  That is why in many major cities charities which claim to help homeless people are running anti-begging campaigns to smear them all as drug users or drunks and warning if you give them money you will kill them.

Ask anyone begging what they want, right there and then, and if they are foolish enough to be honest they will say money.  That does’t mean they wouldn’t appreciate a sandwich, a cup of tea or a warm coat as well.  But what they need is cash.  They may want that money for drugs or booze, or they may want it to choose something to eat or wear themselves.  They may be in debt, to someone you really don’t want to be in debt to.  The propaganda on display in anti-begging campaigns insists that street homeless people do nothing but scrounge and shovel drugs down their necks, never stopping to eat, pay hostel service charges, buy a clean pair of socks or get a bus across town.  Yet even the most chaotic substance users still need money for other things as well.  Because they are real people, not grotesque cartoons.

The stark truth is that even someone who does beg to maintain an addiction will not be helped by no-one giving them any money.  They will simply beg for longer to get what they need, whether that’s a bag of smack or three litres of White Lightening.  If the begging is good, and the sun’s out, then once they have that they might beg for something for dinner as well.  Or to be able to have their drink of choice rather than rough cheap cider.  Or to buy their kid they hardly see a birthday present.

If the begging is bad that day then they will sit there all night, or resort to other means to get money such as crime or sex work.  The faster they can meet the needs of their addiction – needs which are real, the street is no place to go cold turkey – the more likely they will have time or money to do other things.  What they are really begging for, in many cases, is a bit of stability.  A drug law reform poster that occassionally appeared on the streets of King’s Cross a couple of decades ago summed it up: “Heroin addiction is not hedonism but constant medication with a very powerful painkiller”.  Until withdrawal symptoms can be medicated away then most people can barely roll a cigarette let alone try to sort their housing out, seek treatment, or get a fucking job.  You are unlikely to kill someone with a drug or alcohol dependency with kindness by giving them a quid as hysterical homelessness charities claim.  You are not prolonging their addiction, only they can do that.  What you might do is give them a bit of space and time to do something else that day other than sit outside a shop doorway and risk arrest by asking people for money.

It is the presumption that homeless people cannot be trusted to be actors in their own lives that reveals the flaws embedded within charity.  To make a decision about what someone needs, whilst ignoring what they tell you they need, makes giving all about the giver not the receiver.  Charity becomes a way for people to feel better about themselves and for the wealthy to erase the guilt that comes from living in such an unequal and fractured society.

Few things expose this self-indulgence better than the horrifyingly named Crack + Cider initiative which was featured in today’s Huffington Post.  This Hackney based pop-up shop was established so that people can help homeless people without worrying whether they will spend the money on alcohol or drugs.  They can do this by donating the price of a coat, pair of gloves or umbrella, which Crack + Cider will then buy and give to a homelessness charity.  And then it will probably sit in a store room for the next decade along with all the rest of the tat that arrives in charity fundraising offices that they have neither the resources or the will to distribute.

There is of course nothing wrong with buying a homeless person a coat.  You can do that very easily without the act being mediated by charity.  Go into a shop, buy a coat, give it to a homeless person.  Fucking simples.  Or join up with #opsafewinter who distribute supplies to homeless people directly.

What is wrong with Crack and Cider, apart from the obvious, is that this is not a project designed to help homeless people, but to help the urban middle classes feel better about homelessness.  It does this by not only re-inforcing prejudices people feel towards the homeless, but also allowing them to buy their way out of any sense of personal responsibility for the problem.  After all, there might be a poor person walking round now in a coat they paid for. If homeless people are still homeless after that kind of lavish generosity then they only have themselves to blame.  Serves them right anyway for taking all those drugs.

In a gushing press release those behind the shop  warn that even Kensington and Chelsea council say “giving to rough sleepers contributes to their early death”.  There is no evidence that this is true because this is a political lie, used by a Tory council to justify forcing beggars out of one of London’s richest boroughs rather than providing the homes and services they need.   A borough that could soon be selling off up to 97% of their socially rented homes.  Better to blame people hooked on Special Brew for the homelessness this will cause than the Tory government’s housing policy.

There is no doubt those behind Crack + Cider are trying to be well-meaning – they are not taking any money from the project.  The name they say is merely intended to stimulate a conversation about homelessness in that kind of wacky and ironic way that normal people who don’t live in Hoxton probably don’t understand.  They say it was inspired by a beggar telling them that people didn’t give them money because they thought they’d spend it all on crack and cider.  “Oh yah, that’s what we think too” they no doubt decided.  Let’s set up a shop and call it something edgy.  And so homelessness, as far as coat-buying Hackney hipsters are concerned, is sorted.  Meanwhile down the road a beggar just got stabbed because they tried to pay off a drug debt with a pair of gloves and a fucking umbrella.

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Benefit Cap Back In The Courts, Join The Fight Against This Nasty Policy

unwaged-care-workFew policies have been as immediately devastating as the Benefit Cap which has seen many families plunged into imminent homelessness overnight as vital Housing Benefits are slashed.

These were not people living in Kensington mansions as the establishment press have claimed.  Often it was those in expensive but low quality emergency accommodation, or who lived in areas where rents have soared out of reach.  Few would have believed even a decade ago that people on low incomes living in places like Tottenham or Lewisham would be priced not just out of London but soon the entire South East.  The reason for this has nothing to be with high Housing Benefits but an out of control housing market combined with a chronic shortage of social housing.  Yet the government has chosen to punish the poorest children for this market failure by forcing them to move – sometime 100s of miles – away from their schools, friends and wider families.

Very soon things are set to get even worse with a new, lower Benefit Cap on the way.  Mass social cleansing of the poor will no longer just be a phenomena in the south of England, but will reach out into cities across the UK.  This is the end of a functioning safety net for huge swathes of people.  Lose your job, and you will probably now lose your home and have to move hundreds of miles away, to an area of high unemployment where rents are low.  Which of course will keep the workers in line – the real intention of this and other welfare reforms.

There is no clear evidence that people have found work due to the Benefit Cap as Iain Duncan Smith repeatedly claims.  And what of those who have.  Imagine the horrifying insecurity of a parent in low paid work, desperately clinging onto a their job knowing that if they get sacked they and their children face homelessness.  People working in sectors known to be exploitative like cleaning and care work.  The end of adequate social security in the cities is a recipe for employer exploitation and abuse.  And doesn’t this government just know that.

One group who cannot simply just find a job to escape the cap are full time carers who are also affected.  This group are required by law to provide care for 35 hours a week or they face losing the pittance of Carer’s Allowance – just £62.10.  Only those caring for their partner or  a disabled child are exempt from the cap.

Two people hit by the cap are currently challenging this nasty policy in the courts, arguing that it is unlawful and unfairly impacts on carers and those they care for.  The High Court has ordered an urgent judicial review, rejecting the DWP’s argument that the claim should be dismissed.  A hearing takes place tomorrow and a vigil has been called outside the court to support the carers.  Meet at 9.30am on Wed 21 October outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand (off Kingsway) London WC2A 2LL (Temple tube).

The vigil has been called by Winvisible and is supported by Disabled People Against Cuts, Single Mothers’ Self-Defence, Taxpayers Against Poverty and many more.  Further details are on facebook.  Please spread the word.

For background on the case visit: http://www.scottishlegal.com/2015/06/01/legal-challenge-to-benefit-caps-impact-on-disabled-people-and-carers/

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Fixing Poverty Is Simple: Poor People Need More Money and Homeless People Need Homes

world-homeless-day

In the UK today the poor are a commodity and poverty is big business.  That’s why the homelessness industry can afford conferences in luxury hotels, with slap up meals and drinks receptions.  It’s why charity chief executives earn such eye-watering sums, or business empires like the Big Issue can be built beneath a charity facade.  And these are the fuckers who are supposed to be helping.  Alongside them lie the vultures of the welfare-to-work companies like Serco and G4S – a £20 billion industry designed to punish the poor with benefit sanctions and forced work schemes.

At no point in this elaborate system of so-called support, incentives and sanctions will the people who are poor be given what they need – which is more money.  In fact much of the help is designed to do the opposite as it attempts to  create behavior change by inflicting more poverty.  Benfits are cut to ‘incentivise’ people to find a job whilst charities run advertising campains further stigmatising beggars to encourage them not to be homeless.  Other anti-poverty organisations demand that the price of cheap alcohol is raised to stop people being alcoholics and call for bans on handing out free food to make life difficult for those on the streets.  As these demands grow ever more shrill, the number of genuinely affordable homes and jobs that pay an adequate income shrink, alongside already meagre benefit payments. Yet because of the wonderful support the poor are offered – and all that money being spent – when people keep getting poorer then frankly, even most charity bosses think, it’s probably their own fault.

It is fucking grotesque.  What poor people need is more money and what homeless people need is homes.  As well as being glaringly obvious, this is also what the evidence shows.  A study was featured in the Washington Post this week which tracked the personalities of 1,420 low income children in North Carolina over a period of 20 years.  By pure chance during this period about a quarter of the children’s families received a windfall due to being part of a Native American tribe whose land had been used to host a casino.  This led to the families receiving annual payments of around $4000 and meant that the researchers could measure the impact of this small rise in income on the children’s personalities.  The results were clear – according to the researchers “there are large beneficial effects of improved household financial wellbeing on children’s emotional and behavioral health and positive personality trait development.”

The study also found that relationships between parents improved, family arguments decreased, and siginifcantly parents who had more money tended to use drugs and alcohol less.

Back in the UK, in 2010 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an anti-poverty think tank, carried out an experiment with some of the ‘hardest to help’ rough sleepers.  What they did was simple; they identified 15 people who had been sleeping on the streets for a minimum of fours years, they asked them what they needed and then they bought it for them.  Seven of the original fifteen had moved into stable accommodation when the project was evaluated with two more making plans to pove off the streets.  Some participants reported improved mental and physical health, and several said their drinking had reduced.  Three people started educational courses whilst the one individual involved who had a serious drug problem had begun treatment and was on a methadone programme.  Despite the success of this approach it has not been adopted by the UK’s homelessness industry.

Something else which remains largely ignored in UK housing policy is the success of the Housing First scheme at reducing homelessness in the US.   This model simply acknowledges that homeless people need to be given a home before other issues such as substance misuse, unemployment or mental health are addressed.  This approach has been successful in cutting homelessness amongst US army veterans by 30%.  A small pilot project is now being carried out along these lines in the UK, but don’t expect significant change yet.  Much of the homelessness industry still believes that homeless people need to be somehow ‘fixed’ with an approach that dangles the possibility of secure housing at some distant point in the future as a reward for good behavior whilst arresting people in the present if they sleep rough in city centres.

This weekend World Homeless Action Day will feature two events in the UK aiming to promote the Housing First model and protest against the growing criminalisation of homeless people.  In Manchester campaigners are organising a sleep out on Saturday night (10 October) to raise awareness of the problems facing homeless people in the city.  In London there will be speakers and music outside Euston Station on the same night before activists head out on mass into the city to distribute food and supplies to the homeless.  Other events are also planned, please share the facebook page, spread the word and come if you can.

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