Tag Archives: Homelessness

The Crazy Tory Law That Criminalises The Homeless And Could Cost £790 Million.

On 1st September 2012 it became a criminal offence to be found squatting in a residential building, punishable by a fine of £5000 or six months in prison. Section 144 of the new Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill was rushed through Parliament with little attention being paid to the consultation responses from various homeless charities and police, 98% of which were against the legislation.

According to a report in March this year by Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) evaluating the first six months of the Bill, there have been 33 arrests leading to 10 convictions. Their press release summarises their findings thus:-

“The Case Against Section 144″ Press Release

Press Release

For immediate release

Campaign to repeal new squatting law launched in Parliament

Entitled ‘The Case Against Section 144’, SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes) are launching a new report and campaign in Parliament today.

The report’s findings suggest the major concerns regarding criminalisation that arose during the government’s consultation process have been proven right, with homeless and vulnerable people disproportionately affected. No arrests so far have been for squatters displacing anyone from their home, which does suggest that the Criminal Law Act 1977 was sufficient for dealing with squatters – as predicted by many legal experts.

The report concludes with a call for repeal of Section 144. It provides a detailed six-month analysis of the effects that the new legislation has had since its introduction in September 2012, and sets this against the wider backdrop of the UK recession, high homelessness rates and current housing crisis.

The report will be launched today in the House of Commons at a meeting of concerned MPs, Lords, lawyers, homelessness groups and academics. An online government e-petition petition calling for repeal has reached over 2000 signatures in only a few weeks.

Last week, a homeless person in Kent died outside of an empty bungalow, media reports suggest he was prevented from going inside the building by Police because of the new offence of Section 144 which makes it a criminal offence to squat inside a residential property.

SQUASH campaigner Joseph Blake said:

“The new law is appalling. Homeless people are being put in jail for using empty buildings to keep a roof over their head. Section 144 needs to go and any further criminalisation quickly dismissed”.

Professor Danny Dorling, endorsing the report said:

“Squatting is what people do when they get desperate, it is not criminal behavior. Squatting rises when inequalities increase and housing is not treated as a necessity. This is a great report – every MP needs to read it.”

John Mcdonnell (Labour MP) said:

“”This meticulously researched report confirms what we feared about the effect of the new laws criminalising squatting. People are being made unnecessarily homeless and very vulnerable people are suffering as a consequence. This legislation was based upon prejudice and has only made matters worse. This new evidence demonstrates so clearly the need to repeal this misguided law.”

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Lib-Dem Peer) said:

“A few months after the Government brought in the disgraceful law criminalising the homeless occupying an empty house we can see that some of the most needy are indeed suffering in the way that we feared. This is a very useful report that should make people think hard.”

crispin-blunt-paul_1404232c  There was much opposition to s144 during Parliamentary debates of the Bill which was led by Tory Justice Minister Crispin Blunt pictured here alongside his £485k Surrey constituency home – he has a second family home in London which is heavily subsidised by tax payers. Labour MP John McDonnell tabled an amendment which had it been successful  would have protected the genuinely homeless who were squatting in long empty properties. Blunt, however, put forward several specious arguments to justify the criminalisation of squatters. He first of all blamed the squatting homeless for the fact that properties were empty in the first place:-

Many homelessness charities, for instance, are likely to continue to say that the new offence will criminalise homeless and vulnerable people who squat in run-down residential properties, but one of the reasons that the properties remain in that state is that the owners cannot get in to renovate them because the squatters are present.

And its clear whose interests this government are more concerned about and just how out of touch they are by the following excuses he makes for the properties being left empty by their owners:-

We consider that this option strikes the best balance. It will protect those who are likely to suffer most from squatting—those whose homes are taken over by squatters.… that point was made by squatters and squatters groups, but respondents who made that argument were missing one rather important point: the houses are not theirs to occupy. There are many reasons why a house might be left empty for more than six months without any steps being taken to refurbish, let or sell the building. For example, somebody might decide to do charitable work in another country for a year, or they might visit their second home during the summer months only…. 

Clearly, on Planet Cameron its quite normal to be able to afford to take a year off work and commonplace to own a second home. Blunt was obviously oblivious to the irony of such normalisation of privilege during a debate essentially about the growing thousands of people without hope of a secure roof of any kind over their heads.

Bribing-Mike-Weatherley-MP When you consider the number of empty houses there were at the time of this debate in November 2011 – a massive 710,000 – Blunt is really stretching our credibility if he wants us to believe that they are all merely empty because their owners are off doing good works in foreign climes or languishing in luxury in their second homes, unable to get back into their properties because of all those inconvenient paupers cluttering up the place.

McDonnell provided the charming Mr Blunt with a few statistics about the squatting population, no doubt hoping to shame him into a more compassionate state:-

41% of homeless squatters report mental health needs, 34% have been in care, 42% have physical ill health or a disability, 47% have experienced drug dependency, 21% are self-harming, 15% have a learning disability, and 90% have slept rough. Those are the people whom this legislation is about to criminalise…..The Crisis survey found that many of those people had no alternative, and that 78% had approached the local authority for help and been turned away. Among the housing charities—Crisis, Thames Reach, Shelter, Homeless Link, Housing Justice, St Mungo’s—there is a fear that the new legislation could criminalise extremely vulnerable people and force them into more dangerous situations, particularly rough sleeping.

625527_302908889837161_1145371516_n  What MP McDonnell feared but couldn’t have known at the time, was that there could be very drastic consequences for the vulnerable homeless he was describing. Tragically, he was proved right when not six months later homeless Daniel Gauntlett died from hypothermia whilst sleeping outside the abandoned and boarded up bungalow pictured here after being warned by police that if he entered the property to shelter from the bitterly cold weather he would be arrested and possibly sent to jail. Daniel decided to obey Blunt’s law and died as a consequence. No doubt Blunt from the comfort of one of his own homes was ‘unavailable for comment’, despite there also being no doubt that he and his government was indirectly responsible for this young man’s death. As McDonnell said at during the debate in November 2011:-

When there are 40,000 homeless families, 4,000 people sleeping rough in the capital, and 1.7 million households on waiting lists, desperate for decent accommodation, it is immoral that private owners should be allowed to let their properties stand empty for so long.

487757  At lot has happened since that debate that has made the housing situation in Britain far worse than it was back then. As the tide of welfare benefit cuts and bedroom tax has swelled so have the numbers of families whose housing has become very insecure indeed. SQUASH  have estimated that the cost of mitigating the effects of s144 alone could cost around £790 million over the next five years. We already know that the consequences of the bedroom tax are going to cost millions in increased housing benefit as families are forced into private sector renting. Not to mention the possible burden on the NHS from increased ill health due to stress, malnutrition and other poverty related conditions. If this is the government’s idea of saving money then I can only conclude that they are dangerously crazy.

timthumb Mr Blunt may not show much concern for the finances of the homeless and being Tory is automatically implicated in the media hate campaign which characterises the poor as workshy scroungers living it up at the state’s expense. I’m always amazed by the blunt dishonesty of such double standards. This Telegraph report of 2009 is a good illustration of what I mean:-

Documents lodged with the fees office show that Mr Blunt claimed that London was his second home from 1997.It was not until April 2003, when he discussed his Additional Costs Allowance with the fees office, that an official noted: “It was clear that his London home is his main home and has been for some time. His family live in London and his children attend London schools.”

The official said that “it would appear” Mr Blunt had nominated his London home as his second home because of his “mortgage arrangements”. He added: “I suggested that he change his nomination.” Mr Blunt then wrote to the fees office agreeing to move his “main home” designation to London, but suggesting that he took out an additional mortgage on his house in his Surrey constituency, and secure it on his home in south-west London. He said: “I will only claim mortgage interest from my additional cost allowance up to a sum not exceeding the valuation of my now ‘additional home’.”

The fees’ office reply is not recorded, but land registry documents show that Mr Blunt sold the property in Horley, Surrey for £224,000 in July 2004. He bought another property in the same village for £485,000 in November 2005 and claimed £16,000 in stamp duty and legal bills.

Daniel Gauntlett lost his life because he was a law abiding citizen. Mr Blunt commits what can only be seen as fraud without a prick of conscience and loses nothing. On Planet Cameron this is known as ‘fairness’. Where I come from its known as corruption.

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Bedroom Tax: Lord Freud warns councils not to get soft on victims

The Baron cracks his feudal whip once again. He’s determined to keep us poor . Is this the reason why I wonder http://wp.me/p3mYc5-88

Homeless living in caves, #homeless #austerity

Just found this and couldn’t believe that in 21st century Britain people would be reduced to such dire circumstances. commonlyknownasmildred also has posts about a 60 year old man,George Rolph, an ATOS victim who has gone on hunger strike.We certainly do live in desperate times…this blog is well worth a visit.

Cameron in 2008:”In the 5th richest country in the world homelessness is a DISGRACE!” 2013: Why is he INCREASING homelessness for a mere 2% saving on the HB bill?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRI56wE7JWQ

snakeoil553 Way back in 2008 when David Cameron was concerned with making the Tories seem worthy of voting for he said a lot of things which he thought we’d all like to hear in order to convince us of this. Most of it turned out to be merely PR and rhetoric, as we’ve come to realise, some of us very painfully indeed. His promise to be the ‘greenest government ever’ turned out to be an empty one with the recent failure to include clear renewables targets in the Energy Bill along with rolling over for the powerful fracking lobby (who had a lot of help from George Osborne’s father-in-law). His much repeated fervent assertion that there would be ‘no top down reform of the NHS’, no privatisation in their ‘safe hands’. Well, we all know now that ‘promise’ wasn’t worth the paper it was written on; in fact even as he was telling that bare faced lie the private health care moguls and their pet MPs and Lords must have been laughing up their Saville Row sleeves.

shapps_1778088cBut I wonder how many people remember what is now exposed to be the equally callous Tory rhetoric, delivered from the very comfortable,  self-righteous moral high ground of Cameron’s Big Society platform on the subject of homelessness, with his side-kick Grant Shapps, the then Shadow Housing Minister and self-appointed, very temporary rough sleeper?

Watch the sickening You Tube video above and you’ll get the picture. Filmed at the launch of the Conservative Homelessness Foundation in 2008, Cameron was gushing forth about how committed his party was to the cause of wiping out homelessness which he described indignantly as a ‘disgrace’ in the fifth richest country in the world. In front of a charity sector audience he continued to preach to the effect that all right thinking Tories of conscience like him believed the ‘good society’ was just as precious to their hearts as the economy.

hungryBefore you start wondering if this is the same Cameron as the one we’ve come to know and despise today let me reassure you by telling you that after he said all that and a lot of flattering stuff about how third sector i.e. charities like them did so much good and should really be the first sector, he went on to turn reality upside down by confidently asserting that eradicating poverty was not so much about government spending money but much more about ‘understanding their personal and emotional condition’. On Planet Cameron, it seems, lack of money is just a symptom of poverty whereas the ‘real cause’ is stuff like family breakdown and drug and alcohol abuse. {This essentialist nonsense, by the way, was wholeheartedly embraced by Iain Duncan- Smith after his ‘Damascene moment’ in Glasgow in 2004, who got it from that infamous right wing American ‘sociologist’ Charles Murray who visited Britain in John Major’s day and blamed all our social problems on a ‘dadless underclass’}

By adopting this ‘progressive’ approach  it seems that the Tory homelessness saviour Grant Shapps, back in 2008, was  claiming he would end rough sleeping by 2012! (He also insisted back then that he firmly believed housing benefit should be paid directly to landlords). Either IDS(S) was keeping his cunning plan for housing benefit theft under his hat at that point or these well-heeled idiots truly believed the unbelievable crap that poverty and homelessness were just mere symptoms of dysfunctional behaviour. Maybe there’s something in the rich diet of multi-millionaires that destroys the ability to think rationally…Anyway, whatever the reason, Mr Shapps was on a mission. He briefly befriended a few rough sleepers and spent the odd night on the streets in a sleeping bag (on expenses, of course) and made up his own cunning plan. After the 2010 election, on 16th June of that year he was quoted by the Independent as saying,

“This coalition government will not stick our heads in the sand and ignore the true picture of the number of those facing life on the streets.”

But what was the real picture of homelessness in 2008 after eleven years of a New Labour government? Was it the ‘disgrace’ Cameron and Shapps were claiming it to be?

homelessnessAs you can see from this graph from the Office for National Statistics, as far as statutory homelessness was concerned -that’s those people and families who can be defined as homeless according to the legal definition and are therefore ‘accepted’ by a LA as being owed a duty to be housed – during the early years of New Labour numbers rose from an already high point of over 25,000 when they came into office, peaking around 2003/2004 at almost 35,000 and then rapidly declined until by 2010 when the Coalition took over they were down to around 10,000. Labour have been constantly vilified by the Tories when they’ve stood up and opposed the bedroom tax and cap on housing benefit. Cameron and Osborne have frequently ridiculed them for recklessly spending more on housing benefit when in office. What this graph dramatically shows is that spending on housing benefit PREVENTS homelessness.

images (14)What the graph doesn’t include though is those people who are not ‘accepted’ as statutorily homeless, many of whom are forced to live on the streets in all weathers and often resort to begging to keep body and soul together. And here I must concede one point in Grant Shapps’ favour for it was down to him that local authorities now at least attempt to count how many people are sleeping rough on their streets. And he did set up some initiatives to try to help get them off the streets and into hostels by enlisting the help of a number of charities such as Shelter, Crisis, St Mungo’s and Broadway mainly in London, along  with regional charities such as Riverside in the Manchester area and the Whitechapel Centre in Merseyside. This is funded by the Homelessness Transition fund, a £20 million pot of government money.

images (13)A further £3.5 million a year was earmarked for Shapps’ No Second Night Out plan to further ensure rough sleepers got access to overnight hostel accommodation. Then there’s the £1.7 million announced just this year and dubbed ‘Gold Standard’ by Shapps’ successor, Mark Prisk, to be spent on training  staff working in all kinds of services from police and libraries to community nursing who might come into contact with rough sleepers. This follows on from a similar scheme launched by Shapps called ‘Making Every Contact Count’ in which such staff were encouraged to advise the homeless on ‘lifestyle changes’ among other things. £18.5 million a year goes to LAs to ‘develop ways to prevent homelessness’, which is a bit vague and £10.8 million a year has been put into a scheme that provides supported(financial) access to rented accommodation which is better but sounds like housing benefit by another name. When you add to all this the £30 million a year being given to LAs to use as discretionary payments to tenants struggling to pay their rent after cuts to housing benefits, it seems the government are having to throw an awful lot of money,around £456.2 million in fact, at problem they’re determined to make worse by clinging to their holier than thou ideology.

images (10)Despite Shapps’ best efforts to stem the tide, homelessness is well and truly on the rise again EVERYWHERE in the country and has been since the Coalition austerity programme for the poor first began. For example, statistics published by ONS in February show that between 2010 and 2011 homelessness increased by 114% in Manchester, 150% in Great Yarmouth and a massive 300% in Southampton. And that was before the bedroom tax and the cap on housing benefits kicked in. And by some strange quirk of irony the latest rough sleeper count in London carried out in autumn 2012 revealed that almost 25% of rough sleepers in the capital were in the borough of Westminster. Slap bang on the government’s doorstep.

sinclair(Howard Sinclair, CEO of Broadway)

Right from the start leaders of the charities co-opted into helping the government roll out its battle against rough sleeping were warning that the planned cuts in welfare were only going to make matters worse.  On 2nd November 2010 Howard Sinclair, CEO of  homeless charity Broadway, Stephen Robertson from The Big Issue , Jenny Edwards from Homeless Link and many others, wrote to Lord Freud over the proposal to extend the Shared Room Rate to people up to 35 years old. They said

“We have previously had a number of conversations with you concerning the
forthcoming Housing Benefit cuts. As some of the country’s leading organisations
tackling homelessness or representing organisations that provide housing and
support services to homeless people, we were therefore very shocked that, on top of
all the cuts to Housing Benefit in the Budget, the spending review announced that the
Shared Room Rate is now going to be extended from age 25 to 35.
The SRR currently causes considerable problems for young people, with many
unable to secure or sustain affordable accommodation and left facing shortfalls,
arrears and homelessness. A survey of schemes helping people find private rented
accommodation found the low level of the Shared Room Rate was their biggest
policy concern.In many areas of the country, this type of shared accommodation simply doesn’t exist. Even where it does, claimants already struggle to find an affordable property,
with DWP’s most recent figures showing 70% face a shortfall of an average of £27
per week. For vulnerable people who have been homeless, are leaving supported
accommodation, care or prison, even if a property is available and affordable, sharing
is often inappropriate and can be particularly detrimental to people’s well being,
undermine their recovery and undo the progress they have made.”

images (15)Time wore on, the housing benefits cuts got closer to being a reality, levels of homelessness were already creeping up and these guys got even more concerned. Many involved charities, such as Riverside in Manchester and the Whitechapel Centre in Liverpool were reporting twice as many clients as expected and noticed that a large number of these were ‘non-stereotypical rough sleepers’. In 2012 Howard Sinclair became more critical. Calling the bedroom tax and HB caps an ‘ideologically driven move’ by the government and Universal Credit  ‘very likely to lead to a cut in benefits’ he summarised his criticisms.

“A huge area of concern for the vulnerably housed is the proposal to merge HB into the Universal Credit .The Government has acknowledged that the new relief scheme for Council Tax should be retained by local authorities at a reduced level of subsidy support BUT…It is difficult therefore to understand why it is pressing ahead with a central Housing Credit in the Universal Credit. Paying claimants Housing Credit so they can then pay their landlord will bring financial difficulties for both claimants and landlords. The social rented sector tends to house more financially vulnerable people than the private sector and many benefit recipients already struggle to meet their household bills. The concern is that it will lead to an increase in evictions meaning that local authorities will see a rise in homelessness and increased expenditure. The proposed total benefit caps (£500 p/w for a family household) do not take into account the high cost of accommodation in cities, particularly London. Families with children looking for property would have to supplement their rent support very significantly using basic amounts they are currently entitled to for personal support It is understood that reductions in benefit to households that under-occupy their homes will apply to tenants of working age and by 2012 this will be anyone under 65.  The Government’s impact assessment anticipates that this change will affect 670,000 tenants nationally and approximately 32% of all working age Housing Benefit claimants living in social rented housing. It will also lead to pressure on local authorities to provide alternative smaller units into which secure tenants can downsize.”

http://doc.housing.org.uk.s3.amazonaws.com/Presentations/Howard%20Sinclair.pdf

images (16)Throughout the many Coalition housing policy documents I’ve looked at whilst researching this topic one particular issue crops up repeatedly, that of the private sector. One of the most recent document I could find is entitled  ‘Homelessness in England. Standard Note: SN/SP/1164’, last updated on 12 June 2013 in which a ‘key challenge’ is identified as

“To develop a suitable private rented sector offer for all client groups, including advice and support to both client and landlord” (my emphasis)

This idea is woven through everything the pre-election Tories were putting out and is integral to everything the Coalition have written since.Its obvious from this that the LibDems have had no influence over housing policy. What’s more worrying is that I can find no mention anywhere of a similar ‘key’ challenge to build more social housing. But if the real reason for the cuts in HB are the stated ones this flies in the face of evidence and common sense because the biggest costs of housing benefits come from the private rented sector and this cost has been rising steadily alongside rent increases in this sector, as this chart shows :-

 

46901

The National Landlords Association surveyed 455 private landlords currently letting to HB claimants and found that:-

  • 58% plan to cut the amount of properties they let to tenants on benefits
  • 90% said they could not afford to reduce rent to absorb the cuts to LHA.
  • There is an average of 4.4 tenants vying for each property across the UK.
  • The average number of properties available to let per branch fallen by 29%.
  • Research from lender Paragon shows that 41% of landlords plan to raise rents, with 55% planning to keep rents at 2010 levels, and just 4% planning to cut rents

Another recent report from Homeless links found  that the attitudes of private sector landlords could be putting benefit claimants at a severe disadvantage. From their much larger sample of 55,537 properties, less than 1% had landlords that explicitly stated they were happy to rent to benefit claimants.

The Housing Benefit bill,prior to the cuts, was indeed large at £23 billion. However, to put this in proportion it was 11% of total government spending, nothing like as much as the 52% spent on pensions, for instance, but quite a bit more than the 3% spent on JSA.  According to the Public Accounts Select Committee the figures for predicted savings are vague and haven’t taken into account the potentially large admin costs. Neither do they seem to have accounted for the huge amount being spent to attempt to mitigate the effects on rent arrears and homelessness that I mentioned above, a figure that I estimated would be at least £456 million up to 2015. The lowest estimated saving is £465 million which is just 2% of the £23 billion previous bill.

polyp_cartoon_Corporate_Thumb  WHEN ALL THE EVIDENCE SHOWS THAT SPENDING ON HOUSING BENEFIT CAN REDUCE HOMELESSNESS IS IT REALLY WORTH CAUSING SO MUCH MISERY AND DEPRIVATION FOR A MERE TWO PERCENT?

OR IS THIS CLASS TYRANNY ?