Category Archives: Housing and Homelessness

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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To The Fucking Streets – Protesters Bring Traffic To A Standstill In Spontaneous Housing March

rich-graveyard

Whitehall was briefly blockaded and a smoke bomb let off outside Downing Street today as over 100 people took to the streets in protest at the Housing Bill being debated in Parliament.

The new laws, which will mean mass social housing sell offs, vicious rent hikes for families on even modest incomes and the scrapping of lifetime tenancies have been called the end of genuinely affordable housing in the UK.  Tenants, housing workers and campaigners have vowed to fight the bill which will lead to growing numbers of people living their entire lives without ever knowing what it is like to have a secure home.

Today’s protests began early this morning when the vile Policy Exchange and Localis were evicted by housing activists who blockaded their offices preventing staff from entering.  These two so-called think tanks – both stuffed with chinless fucking Tarquins – were responsible for proposing several of the measures in the housing bill.

Later in the day over 200 people gathered outside Parliament in a protest that was well-attended despite coming so soon in the new year.  After an hour or so of speeches many of those present occupied the road and then began a spontaneous march through the streets of central London accompanied by a sound system.  As police scurried to keep up traffic was brought to a standstill by the boisterous crowd who defied attempts to herd them off the streets and onto the pavement.

A place to live and sleep is the most basic human need and now the bastards even want that.  The time for politeness and asking for permission to protest is long over.  Disobedience, disruption and disorder are all that governments understand – and for all their bluster they are fucking terrified of it.  So that is what it will take to smash this new bill and every other attack on our homes.  Anything else is just consent to carry on as usual.  Don’t consent.  Fuck shit up.

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Some Homelessness Charities Are Not What They Seem. Make Sure You’re Not Killing With Kindness.

killing8

You could be killing with kindness if you give money to some homelessness charities.

Many well-meaning people donate spare change to homelessness charities without realising they might be supporting policies which harm, and could even kill homeless people.

Several homeless charities use workfare staff who face benefit sanctions if they refuse to work for free.  These sanctions have been linked to suicides, homelessness, ill health and desperate poverty.  Both the Salvation Army and the YMCA are heavily involved with workfare.

Despite many tragic deaths on the streets many homelessness charities oppose help being given directly such as soups runs.  One organisation (Thamesreach) even supported a Tory council’s failed attempt to make it illegal to give food to homeless people.

Thamesreach, again, and St Mungo’s carry out a racist repatriation scheme on behalf of the Tory government in which workers are sent out to coerce homeless migrants to go back to where they came from. Thamesreach have also been involved in ‘supporting’ squat evictions.

Many homelessness charities have co-operated with the police to run anti-begging campaigns which stereotype homeless people as drug addicts or criminals.  Homeless people already often face abuse and even violence from some members of the public – these campaigns make that more likely.

Most homelessness charities which beg for money aren’t really poor.  Chief Executives are often paid huge sums whilst the homelessness industry holds regular conferences in swanky hotels where tickets can cost as much as £600!

By giving money to homelessness charities you are encouraging behaviour which often harms homeless people.  Give responsibly and give direct to the homeless this Christmas.  If you are concerned about rising homelessness then contact a local housing campaign and get involved.

Happy Christmas folks – jv

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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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Government Slammed By Regulators Over Misleading Homelessness Statistics

Soaring street homelesness much worse than even this say charities

This looks bad but it’s even worse say homelessness charities.

Government homelessness statistics due out next week have been slammed as ‘potentially misleading’ by the UK Statistics Authority after charities warned they were under-estimating the true scale of the homelessness epidemic.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) produces three different sets of homelessness statistics and all have shown a rising trend in the number of those without a home over the last five years.   Two of these reports – statistics on how many people people have approached local councils concerned they are about to become homeless as well as figures recording the number of people sleeping rough – are released on an annual basis whilst the number of people actually accepted as homeless by Local Authorities are recorded on a quarterly basis.  This needs to change according to the Statistics Authority who recommend that all local authority statistics are released quarterly in a single publication.

The authority also questions whether rough sleeping statistics are truly an accurate portrayal pointing out significant difference between the number of street homeless people estimated in counts carried out by charities and those produced by Local Authorities.  Astonishingly rough sleeping figures are gained from a single annual street count managed at local level with councils able to opt out if they do not believe they have a siginificant number of rough sleepers.  Front-line workers in the homelessness industry have long warned that these counts are often fixed with police sent in to clear the streets of rough sleepers before the count takes place.  Sadly the UK Statistics Authority have not called for an examination of how widespred this practice is.

DCLG are now required to carry out an overhaul of rough sleeping statistics as well as provide an explanation of the methods used to collect these figures and the reasons why.  Basically, until a better system can be found, then DCLG have been ordered to add a disclaimer to the statistical releases saying that these numbers are actually a load of old bollocks so don’t believe a word of them.  Which no-one did anyway.

You can read the UK Statistics Authority’s asessment at: http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/assessment/current-assessments/homelessness-and-rough-sleeping-statistics.html

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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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