Almost a year ago I wrote about a report on residential training provision, and remarked that the proposals therein, called to mind a Dickensian view of the Workhouse.
Today I read two articles discussing changes to Jobseekers Allowance, due to come into force next month for Homeless people; according to Inside Housing ” Under the new rules, Job Centre Plus advisors will be given the discretionary power to exempt rough sleepers and those in supported accommodation from looking for work“, this will however be subject to “claimants will have to prove they are taking reasonable action to find accommodation“. The writer appears to view these new amendments as a positive move, offering quotes from Homeless Link and St Mungo’s Broadway, both announcing these changes as, the Government recognising the extra barriers Homeless people experience when seeking work and acting upon them.
The second post from Johnny Void was far less supportive, challenging the exemptions as, only lasting four weeks “despite the average length of hostel stays being significantly longer than that“; he justifies this by pointing out, “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”. He also notes “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“.
Both posts refer to a Report from Homeless Links which found “nearly one in three (31 per cent) homeless people on jobseeker’s allowance have faced penalties, compared with just 3 per cent of typical claimants” continuing with “Eighty-seven per cent of of the services report homeless people are experiencing food poverty, with one in six turning to crime“.
These amendments come at a time when Homelessness is rising exponentially, affecting “an estimated 185,000 people a year“, these figures are from a report by Joseph Rowntree Foundation & Crisis, who define homelessness as “people sleeping rough, single people living in temporary accommodation, statutorily homeless households who are currently or imminently without accommodation and “hidden homeless” households, such as those living in severely overcrowded conditions, squatters or “sofa-surfers”; ergo many of those affected here will not benefit from Government changes.
The same report does identify the number of rough sleepers as being, up “by 6% in England and 13% in London…(and noting) This pushes the two-year increase in the capital to over 60%” and these are the people these amendments will affect.
It appears accepted by a majority of researchers who have studied the impacts of Welfare Reform , the Act is implicated in the rise of people without a home; CASE, a research group of nine major housing associations providing affordable homes in the South East of England, asserted in their 2012 report The impact of welfare reform on housing, ‘the combination of the Bedroom tax, Direct Payments and the Benefits Cap would result in people losing their homes’. Further a recent report by Grant Thornton UK First impressions of the impact of welfare reform, found “worrying signs are emerging, including rising rental arrears, homelessness and reliance on food banks, which may be linked to the reforms“.
Given the above I’m left wondering why Government is tweaking with JSA regulations, when the reasons behind the rise in Homelessness and Poverty, including those which appear as consequence of Welfare Reform, are being overlooked? It is accepted there are many causes for Homelessness, and whilst Government can have little control on personal grounds for this experience; they have almost absolute power over Structural reasons, and it on this basis I challenge the effectiveness of the regulation changes. I fail to understand how the potential for a civil servant not to sanction a homeless person for four weeks, will have an positive impact on their lives.
It is recognised the UK is experiencing an increasing dearth of social housing, as even where genuinely affordable housing did exist, it is being bought and the rents immediately hiked often above the Benefit Cap, forcing Housing Benefits claimants into rent arrears/eviction. A recent example of this is Government MP Richard Benyon, purchasing the New Era Estate in London; this is particularly disconcerting from man who reportedly blasts the ‘something for nothing’ welfare state, whilst receiving £625K a year in Housing Benefit. For Government to have a productive impact on Homelessness it needs to address the shortage in Homes that are affordable for all; particularly those earning than the living wage and people in receipt of Housing Benefit, all of us without the means or desire to access a mortgage.
This still leaves the question of who will benefit from the regulation changes: a search on Homeless UK shows 1579 projects, offering supported housing and hostels for Rough sleepers, all of whom will profit via receipt of Housing Benefit for those exempt; could this be the reason the Housing charities are so supportive of these changes? Johnny Void sums this up as “they will still be technically homeless but at least the charity gets a huge Housing Benefit cheque every week“.
If there is any reality in the above intimations, then will be witness a growth in the hostels and associated accommodation, self justified by the rise in Homeless people, and will they become the Workhouse of the 22nd Century?
Surely its time for the Government to fulfil Cameron’s promise for Greater transparency and tell the public the TRUTH behind the rationale of Welfare and other Reforms .
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