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Charity Chief Executives and so-called housing experts are gearing up for this year’s homelessness industry conference which is due to be held at a four star hotel with ticket prices as high as £715!
Next month’s Under One Roof conference is organised by charity umbrella body Homeless Link and provides a chance for homelessness experts to talk about homeless people without any actual homeless people being present. This year’s swanky bash is being held at the Hinckley Island Hotel in Leicestershire where according to Homeless Link “Delegates staying overnight are also entitled to complimentary use of the leisure club facilities, which include a heated indoor swimming pool, fully equipped gym, sauna, spa, steam room and solarium.”
Were somebody who is homeless wishing to access this event they would be forced to pay the non-member rate of £320 just for one day, and they don’t even get to stay in the hotel for that. For the entire two days, plus accommodation, then the bill rises to over £700 – around ten times the weekly Jobseeker’s Allowance payment many homeless people survive on. Homelessless charities who run hostels evict residents for running up smaller service charge arrears than that every day of the week.
When not swanning around by the pool, or enjoying the promised slap up meal, delegates to this year’s conference will attend workshops held by ‘industry experts’. Experts like Jeremy ‘send ’em back’ Swain of charity Thamesreach who will lead a discussion on whether it is ‘counter-productive’ to carry on working with destitute migrants.
Other hot topics will include, predictably, fundraising, crowdsourcing, and “how to pool resources to enable you to bid for contracts that would otherwise be out of reach”. Those four star hotel bills won’t pay themselves you know.
It will not be front line homelessness workers attending this event of course, but middle managers, ‘professionals’ and charity bosses – the kind of people who could afford to pay for their own fucking hotel. Instead well meaning charity donors, homeless hostel residents and of course tax payers, will fund this lavish and drink-soaked skive. And drink-soaked it will be, after the arduous day of workshops the organisers promise a drinks reception, followed by a conference dinner – with entertainment provided by a top magician (perhaps he can magic up some fucking housing) – and then another drinks reception. These are the same charities that run nasty campaigns telling people not to give money to homeless beggars because they will only spend it on booze or drugs. Give your spare change to a homelessness charity instead they say, so highly paid Chief Executives can spend it on fine wine, magicians and posh hotels.
Apologies for the slow down in posts. Things might remain a bit sporadic here until September when a shit storm is coming.
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The homelessness industry is today welcoming an upcoming change in the law which could see homeless people forced to live in unsuitable or unsafe accommodation or face losing eligibility for benefits.
Homeless Link and St Mungo’s Broadway have published a gushing press release cheering amendments to the rules for Jobseeker’s Allowance set to come into force next month. The changes mean that newly homeless people may only be considered meeting the criteria for benefits if they take “such steps as are reasonable for him (sic) to take to find living accommodation.”
Homeless people will have an easement of jobseeking requirements if they follow these conditions, but this will usually only last four weeks, despite the average length of hostel stays being significantly longer than that. The minimum length of stay in one of St Mungo’s Central London hostels is eight weeks, with most residents staying an average of six to nine months. The so-called easement period will be granted only at the discretion of Jobcentre busy-bodies and will not apply to people who have been homeless for a long time.
This trivial concession has been won by the homelessness industry in exchange for a yet further extensions of Jobcentre powers over the lives of some of the most marginalised claimants. Overpaid charity bosses have been working for a long time with various government bodies and local authorities to establish the homelessness industry as a sort of soft police force aiming to clear the streets of those destitute. Instead of analysing why mass homelessness exists, which is first and foremost an economic problem, it has been assumed that there must be something wrong with homeless people, something that can be cured. This is no different to the current thinking at the DWP which blames unemployed people for unemployment and it is vile.
The main way to cure people of homelessness, charity bosses believe, is to move everyone off the streets into one of their hostels. Of course they will still be technically homeless but at least the charity gets a huge Housing Benefit cheque every week. These hostels have slightly improved over recent years but they can still be dangerous and hostile places. The rules and regulations are endless, bullying can be rife, they are often riddled with heavy drug use and evictions can happen at the drop of a hat and for the most trivial reasons. Yet under the new regulations a newly homeless claimant who turns down a hostel place will now not be considered for the easement period. If they are then judged unable to meet benefit conditions, which could include workfare, they will face sanctions or possibly even be disallowed benefits completely. Homelessness charity bosses are either extremely fucking naive or have quite another agenda if they honestly believe this will be better for homeless people, who do not appear to have been consulted about the changes. They never are.
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A damning report has been published by Homeless Link which reveals that one third of homeless people on unemployment benefits, and just under a fifth of those on the sickness and disability benefit Employment Support Allowance, have had benefits stopped or sanctioned for failing to carry out ‘Work Related Activity’.
According to Homeless Link, who are an umbrella body for homelessness organisations, many of those sanctioned have mental health conditions, learning disabilities or substance use problems. Young homeless people and non-English speakers also face a higher risk of sanction.
Around one million benefit claims are expected to be sanctioned this year. Sanctions can now last up to three years and leave people dependent on discretionary Hardship Payments – which are being converted into loans and are not available to everyone – of just £43 a week. Claimants can be sanctioned for an ever growing list of offences, including missing a meeting with an advisor, failure to complete ‘mandated’ activity on the Work Programme or failing to attend workfare.
The DWP claim these brutal measures help motivate people to look for work, a shockingly out of touch viewpoint which is shamefully shared by several homelessness organisations themselves who participate in workfare schemes.
The reality is that sanctions lead to abject poverty, where finding money for the next meal takes precedence over any form of longer term planning. According to Homeless Link, sanctions are driving recently housed homeless people into arrears and evictions, whilst those in temporary accommodation such as hostels are unable to pay the weekly service charges which must be met out of benefits. The report also claims that sanctions are making mental health or substance use problems worse for many homeless people. In the words of one person interviewed: “you try to get back on your feet and you’re smacked back down”.
With Jobcentre staff working to unofficial targets to sanctions as many claims as possible, it is hardly surprising that it is the most vulnerable claimants who are targeted. According to the report:
“Several survey respondents said their clients were sanctioned after missing appointments with Jobcentre Plus because of ill health or hospital appointments. One reported that a client was sanctioned whilst he was in hospital recovering from a heart attack. A homeless man described how he received a sanction despite rearranging his interview in advance so he could take his daughter to a hospital appointment.”
The report also warns that the benefit sanctioning regime is so widespread that it is now affecting homeless charities themselves, leading to some highly paid charity bosses almost dropping their vol-au-vents in concern. 22 organisations questioned for the report said they had increased the numbers of evictions or notices to quit they served on hostel or other supported housing residents. Hostel service charges can be anywhere from around a tenner to 30-40 quid a week, a fortune to homeless people but not a huge amount to homeless charities.
No-one should be made homeless by a homelessness charity because their benefit has been sanctioned, and if charity bosses say they can’t afford that policy then they should pay themselves less until they can.
This report however is a much needed intervention from homelessness charities who until now have been near silent about the relentlessly vicious Tory attacks on homeless people. One of the reasons for that silence is the involvement of many charities themselves in the sanctioning regime. Some of those sanctioned will have had benefits cut due to ‘compliance doubts’ raised by Work Programme providers – which include several homelessness charities. Others will have failed to attend Mandatory Work Activity in a @salvationarmyuk or @YMCA_England charity shop, where claimants can be sent to work for no pay or face benefits being sanctioned.
This report, which tells the truth about the impact of benefit sanctions on those whose lives are already in bits, should be widely read and shared. But homelessness charities urgently need to put their own houses in order, and ensure that workfare and sanctions have no place within organisations that claim to help homeless people.
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