Social Media


Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Brokenshire admits no new money for flagship plan to eradicate rough sleeping

Written by Jennifer McKiernan and Henry Vaughan

The Government has committed no new money to pay for its flagship £100 million fund to eradicate rough sleeping within the decade, Housing Secretary James Brokenshire has admitted.

The fund was welcomed by homelessness charities as a significant step towards helping the estimated 4,751 people sleeping rough on English streets on any given night.

But in interviews on Monday, Mr Brokenshire said half the cash had already been committed to rough sleeping and the other half was "reprioritised" from existing budgets in his department.

He said: "The £100 million is prioritisation of funding, so around half of that is new money for homelessness and rough sleeping, because it is about how we use the resources well and effectively and to deal with the priorities of this Government.

"And the priority is to deal with rough sleeping, which is unacceptable."

Mr Brokenshire denied Government policies were behind a rise in homelessness, as identified by independent organisations such as the National Audit Office.

However, the minister did appear to commit to reviewing the impact of welfare policies, such as the Universal Credit system, on homelessness.

He said: "I think there are a number of different factors at play here - how in relation to Universal Credit, that's about getting people into work and keeping them in work, and how that makes such a huge difference in turning lives around.

"How yes, we have reflected and have made changes to Universal Credit to speed up those payments, and how we will continue to listen to the evidence on this sensitive issue and how in the strategy, we have committed to having a more effective way of identifying the impact that changes in legislation may have in the future and what that might mean for homelessness and joint work I'll be doing with the Department of Work and Pensions around that."

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate had welcomed the strategy with the caveat more must be done to tackle issues around housing benefit and lack of housing.

She said: "This strategy is an important step forward in the fight against the rough sleeping emergency that's led to people dying on our streets.

"But let's be clear, this is a step forward and not a total fix for homelessness.

"We still need to tackle the chronic lack of genuinely affordable homes, deep instability of renting, and problems with housing benefit that are leaving so many without a home.

"If the Government wants to eradicate rough sleeping for good, this strategy must be quickly followed by a new plan to build many more social homes and efforts to create real security for those struggling with their rent."

Local Government Association (LGA) chairman Lord Porter said the Government needed to tackle root causes of rough sleeping, which included a review of welfare reforms.

"Councils want to end all homelessness by preventing it from happening in the first place," he said.

"This means allowing councils to build more social homes, reviewing welfare reforms and ensuring councils have the certainty, resources and tools they need to bring together services around people at risk of becoming homeless.

"It's good to see other government departments with responsibilities for areas such as employment, mental health and justice begin to acknowledge their critical role in reducing rough sleeping.

"However, we must go much further, much faster. Rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg - right now, councils are currently housing over 79,000 homeless families and 123,000 children in temporary housing."

FORMER ROUGH SLEEPERS: UNIVERSAL CREDIT WILL PUT MORE ON THE STREETS

Former homeless men have cast doubt on the Government's flagship £100 million fund to eradicate rough sleeping within the decade, claiming the Universal Credit system will put more people on the streets.

Geoff Kearns, 53, tackled Housing Secretary James Brokenshire on the issue as the minister visited The Passage homeless resource centre, in central London, to launch the new strategy.

"Universal Credit," he said. "This is going to make more people homeless. This is wrong."

Mr Brokenshire denied Government policies were behind a rise in the number of homeless people, but appeared to commit to reviewing the impact of welfare policies on homelessness.

Mr Kearns, who slept rough after a "mental crash", and Sean Jennings, 34, who found himself on the streets after leaving the care system, said his target of eradicating homelessness by 2027 was unrealistic.

"Universal Credit is the one major thing that's going to create more homelessness," said Mr Kearns.

"When you go on Universal Credit you've got to wait two months, three months for your money. Your landlord's not going to wait so he's going to evict you, so you're back to square one again."

Mr Jennings said: "If you're giving £1,200 a month to someone who does drugs or used to do drugs or used to be a gambler, what are they going to do?

"Slop it in a machine, bang it in their arms. Basically that means it's not going to work."

He added: "That Universal Credit needs to go. You're getting a lot of families, vulnerable people going back on the streets because of that. I've noticed that since that Universal Credit has come out - there's more homeless people because of that."

The pair, who are both now in accommodation, gave an insight into the harsh realities of life on the street.

"It's cold. Being on the streets people just ignore you. They don't know your circumstances, why you're on the streets," said Mr Kearns, who has not slept rough since 2010.

"You get people spitting on you, throwing things at you, peeing on you, setting fire to you, kicking you and beating you up in the streets."

Mr Jennings, who slept rough for 18 years up until January, added: "I was on the streets during the winter we had last year - the -7C and things like that in Covent Garden, and it was not nice at all.

"I had a sleeping bag, it wasn't enough, I had to get another sleeping bag, so I had to sleep in two sleeping bags... otherwise I might not wake up, or wake up with pneumonia or ill.

"As Geoff said, people do spit on you, urinate on you, try to set you on fire.

"I actually had one fella try to pour petrol over me. I woke up and he tried to pour petrol all over me and that was... I thought I was gone."

A Government spokesman said: "Homelessness is complex, and cannot be linked to a single issue.

"The vast majority of Universal Credit claimants receive their payments in full and on time and we have already made numerous improvements to help people access support sooner.

"This includes removing the seven waiting days, making advance payments of up to 100% available, and introducing two weeks' extra housing benefit for people joining Universal Credit from the old system.

"Claimants can also request direct payments to landlords and get personal budgeting support from their work coach."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Yui Mok / PA Wire.