UNISON is challenging all political parties and interest groups to work together to develop a national strategy to address homelessness, a strategy that will look at the causes, the health perspective and the impact of welfare reforms.
The strategy needs to look at housing solutions, including the building of council and other social housing, affordable for the homeless and low income households. The union will also continue to campaign for the end to welfare cuts and income austerity, to highlight the plight of homeless people and to call for an end to rough sleeping.
Anna Boyle, moving the South Lanarkshire motion on homelessness, said, “The increase in homelessness in recent years is an issue that directly affects many UNISON members who are working with those experiencing homelessness or may be at risk of becoming homeless themselves, particularly those in private rented accommodation or reliant on in-work benefits.”
Anna explained that having a secure home is a fundamental human need, “Without this there is a negative impact on other areas of life such as family relationships, physical or mental health. This then results in increased demand on various support services and undoubtedly an increased cost for services which are facing harsh funding cuts.”
She pointed out that the Welfare Reform Act had been the biggest change in welfare reform since the inception of the Welfare State in 1945 a change that most affected the young, women, and the disabled. She referred to “The chaos which is Universal Credit, we are glad that the Labour Party are now seeing the insidious nature of this”
Kate Ramsden, moved the NEC amendment, highlighting the new Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 – a key policy development in tackling homelessness in England that came into force in April this year and is modelled on a similar law introduced in Wales three years ago, placing a duty on councils to help prevent homelessness of single people and families.
Kate warned, “Although, UNISON has welcomed the new law, we believe that it is massively Councils have been given £72m over the next three years to deliver the preventative and relief duties in the act, but this is nowhere near enough, given the depth and scale of the homeless crisis.”
She illustrated the problem with some statistics from a recent report by Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation – there has been a 169% rise in rough sleeping, a 48% rise in the number of homelessness cases dealt with by local councils and a staggering 250% rise in people living in bed and breakfast accommodation since 2010.
Kate said, “This means that in England more than 9,000 people are living on the streets; and more than 78,000 households are living in temporary accommodation – this figure could rise to 100,000 by 2020. The human misery this will cause doesn’t bear thinking about.”
She blamed failed government housing policies and the chronic under-investment in housing, “This has led to the worsening of the homelessness crisis, as there are simply not enough social rented homes or low cost homes at below market prices to house the homeless and low paid households.”
Caroline McLean, Edinburgh City, supporting the motion, and a Housing Officer working in Homelessness Services for the authority, “The service provides a one stop shop for complex needs clients such as housing, social work, GP practice, community psychiatric nurses, welfare benefits and so on.
Caroline said “My main role is to assess persons who present as homeless using the legislation criteria to determine homeless status, Homeless, local connection, intentionality. Once I’ve determined the person is homeless, I will refer them for temporary accommodation which could be a hostel, supported unit or a B&B.”
She pointed out that it’s often hard to find accommodation – they run out of accommodation or a supported unit refuses because their needs are too high, or a B&B refuses because of the way they look or they have been problematic in another B&B, and of course B&B staff are not trained to deal with homeless people.
Then on the other hand, the homeless person may refuse accommodation, Caroline explained, they have stated it’s often safer to sleep on the streets, and if they do take accommodation they don’t like to complain as they could be asked to leave.
Caroline stated, “The amount of money spent on B&B accommodation is astronomical and could have been better spent on building houses as well as accommodation for homeless people who cannot manage a tenancy”
“ It’s frustrating for Housing Officers knowing that the accommodation we require for our vulnerable homeless people is not there, and more frustration when you have to tell them there is no accommodation left. So you need to return tomorrow. This often leads to Housing Officers being verbally abused and threatened.”
Caroline urged us all to get behind the motion and hold the UK Government to account in dealing seriously with homelessness. Every person is entitled to a safe place to live.”