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There has been an unprecedented rise in homelessness in the past five years. According to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), in September 2016, 14,930 households were statutorily (unintentionally) homeless and in “priority need” (families, the elderly, the sick, veterans, and victims of domestic violence), and 64,630 were in temporary accommodation – up 9% on 2015 and 55% on 2010. 

Anyone without a permanent home or living in temporary accommodation is legally homeless, but the most obvious sign of increased homelessness is the number of people sleeping rough on the streets. In the autumn of 2015, the DCLG recorded 3,569 people sleeping rough in England, but in its 2015/16 annual bulletin CHAIN (the Combined Homelessness and Information Network), reported that outreach workers had found 8,096 people sleeping rough, 5,276 of whom were seen for the first time. Although 64% of those new rough sleepers were seen only once, there has been a 15% increase since 2014/15 in “entrenched rough sleepers” – people who have been seen in consecutive years.

The highest number of rough sleepers, as you would expect, is in London, and within London the City of Westminster is “home” to roughly four times as many as any other local authority, principally because it is also home to Victoria rail and coach stations. London’s largest voluntary-sector homelessness charity, The Passage, is also in Victoria. It operates a resource centre – which helps up to 200 people a day – a 40-bed hostel and 16 self-contained flats. It aims to get people off the streets, and back into work and independent living, but the shortage of affordable housing always presents a problem.

Single people with no dependants – including many with mental-health problems, who are not (surprisingly) priority need, and a number of ex-services personnel, who are priority need but seem to fall through the cracks of the system – find it particularly difficult to get help and are often forced to sleep on the street, where they are not only vulnerable to illness (the average life expectancy of a homeless person is 47), but as a recent publication highlights, are also vulnerable to modern-day slavery1.

Why has there been such a marked increase in homelessness in the past five years? Most charities and housing experts agree that it is primarily as a result of the Government’s welfare reforms, combined with reductions in the availability of affordable housing, rising rents, and cuts to councils’ funding.

Welfare reforms. Cuts to benefit payments have hit incomes, but the principal issue is that housing benefits have been increased by just 1 per cent a year since 2013 – and are now scheduled to be frozen for the next four years. A recent survey of 800 landlords found that more than half no longer rent to people on housing benefit.

Affordable housing. The housing crisis is likely to get worse as the “right-to-buy” scheme continues. The reduction in social housing has forced more people to rent from private landlords. According to Shelter, the advice, support and legal services charity, the loss of a private tenancy is the leading cause of homelessness in England. The Major government’s 1996 Housing Act enables most tenancies to be terminated, for any reason, when the lease expires.

Rising rents. Rents have increased at a much higher rate than housing benefit. Historically, there was legislation in the UK to ensure fair rents, prevent evictions without a valid reason, and to oblige landlords to maintain premises. The Thatcher government’s 1980 Housing Act abolished most rights for tenants and allowed landlords to fix rents and, in addition, its 1985 Landlord and Tenant Act removed the obligation for landlords to maintain property.

Cuts to council funding. Over recent years, billions of pounds have been cut from local authority funding, and Communities Secretary, Greg Clark, has said that it will be reduced by a further 6.7% between 2016 and 2020 as part of the “Conservative-led revolution” to devolve responsibility for funding municipal services from Whitehall to local councils. Islington Council’s funding has been halved since 2010 and, by 2020, will have been cut by 70%. It is difficult for councils, particularly in central London, to find emergency

support and accommodation for homeless people, but it is obvious that the lack of truly affordable housing is at the root of the problem. Islington Council is leading the way by investing £40 million in new council homes over the current financial year, and plans to build 500 council homes and 1,500 other genuinely affordable homes by 2019. Even in the unlikely event, however, that all local authorities were to match that effort, it is extremely doubtful that nearly 100,000 families – and thousands of single people –would be able to have a home of their own, even though there are thousands of empty homes in the UK. In February 2016, The Guardian reported that more than 22,000 homes in London had been empty for more than six months (8,561 for more than two years and 1,151 for more than ten).

There are some measures that councils could take: they could, for example, levy an additional rate of council tax, or compulsorily purchase empty houses. Again, it seems, that Islington is leading the way. “Last year”, The Guardian reported, “Islington council implemented planning laws aimed at banning owners of new homes from leaving the properties empty for longer than three months, with the threat of legal action for those flouting the ban.” This is great, but the government needs to take similar action on a national level – and there are no prizes for guessing how likely that is.

Gillian Burke/The PassageUnderstanding and Responding to Modern Slavery Within the Homelessness Sector

Adrianne LeMan, Barnsbury ward

Homelessness: an increasing problem

There has been an unprecedented rise in homelessness in the past five years. According to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), in September 2016, 14,930 households were statutorily...

While there are strong local issues, the fundamental issues about the NHS and social care are national.

They relate both to funding and the creeping privatisation of the NHS, and the privatised nature of social care, which was forced on local councils by legislation in the early 1990s.

Funding the NHS. Costs in health services, the world over, have risen beyond the rate of inflation. Unlike many economic sectors, investing in new developments does not usually lead to staff reductions. The NHS is, and always will be, a hands on service – and that costs money.

One of the results of greater spending on health is that people live longer, having been cured of the diseases that carried off earlier generations. More people are now living into very old age, and we get more expensive to support as we become more frail.

The proportion of national resources we spend on our NHS bears a very close correlation to whether it is a Conservative, or Conservative-led, government or a Labour one. By the mid-1990s, spending on health in the economy as a whole was as low as 7% of GDP; by 2009 it had gone up to 11%, but by last year it was down again, to below 9%. Remember that 1% of GDP amounts to £20bn. We are currently spending about £120bn a year on the NHS and increases of less than 1% of the budget are planned in the next two years. This is the longest and deepest squeeze on NHS finance that has been seen since it was founded.

Social care funding

Since 2010, central government has cut £4.5bn from local authority funding to commission this service, while the numbers of frail elderly people have grown. In most local authorities only those people with the most serious needs get domiciliary support. Furthercuts are planned over the next few years. Most people were astonished when the government gave no indication in the Autumn Statement that there would be an increase in funding, although the government subsequently agreed to a 3% increase in the precept for social care. This dire state of affairs is illustrated by the fact that Conservative-led Surrey County Council is going out to referendum for agreement to get consent for a further 15% increase for social care.

While much residential social care is self-funded – it is means-tested unless the recipient has less than £20k of assets, including the value of their home – it is clear that not enough has been done to increase the funding base. The last Labour Government tried to create common ground on a tax on the estates of the deceased, but the proposal was defeated by the opposition, which won public-opinion “brownie points” by calling it a “death tax”. Something like this is, however, part of the answer. We need a national social care service that is paid for out of progressive taxation, and where the risks of need are spread among us all, just as it is in the NHS.

The 2012 Health and Social Care Act was intended to change a planned system of health care provision (with market elements introduced by the-then Labour Government) to a full-blown market, in which public commissioners – Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) – would be forced to put almost all services, including clinical services, out to tender. Public and private sectors would compete for contracts.

Although it is true that Virgin Care has contracts to run 30% of the country’s community health services (outside London), it has not worked. In many instances the private sector has either been caught cutting corners, or has withdrawn because, as currently organised, it is not profitable enough. Since the NHS usually comes out top in international comparisons of value for money, that is not surprising, but contracting out is costly.

In addition to the up-front cost, usually reckoned to be about £5bn, of making the changes in 2013, experts calculate the cost of running this market to be at least £5bn a year – money which cannot then be spent on services. This is particularly scandalous in that there is de facto acceptance of the uselessness of the market: the NHS has now gone back to centralised planning and collaborative, rather than competitive, working. The Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), which in our area have put the five boroughs of North Central London together for health planning purposes, totally ignore the provisions of the 2012 Act and have no basis in public accountability or law.

Although the market clearly is not working, there is a plan B for privatisation: cut back funding and allow the consequent increases in waiting lists to drive anyone who can possibly pay for their elective care into the arms of the private sector.

Privatisation and social care

Local authorities were required to sell off most of their social care provision in the early 1990s, and almost all residential and domiciliary care is now provided by the private sector. There has been a big investment in new buildings, but a reduction in the diversity of provision: many of the homes that were run by small businesses, the directors of which actually delivered the care, have gone out of business. Big firms dominate the market. Some of them are in a fragile state, although the assets are usually protected by various financial devices that enable significant profits to be extracted while keeping operating budgets very tight.

On the whole, local authorities are paying less than cost-recovery rates for publicly funded people, homes charge high fees to private individuals whose assets put them above the £20k threshold for State payment. This policy is an unsustainable mess.

CCGs and local government no longer co-located

This is a significant development for Islington. While there has been no legal change in the way CCGs are legally constituted, the STP has paved the way for them to work together as one unit in North Central London. All five CCGs now have one chief officer team. The appointment of the new chief executive was made recently. Strong relationships at borough level have been valuable, and are less easily driven by NHS England for its own purpose. Now NHS England has created a de facto five-borough CCG that will weaken those local links.

The likely consequence of this change is a shift in the pattern of resources between inner London and outer London boroughs, with Camden and Islington likely to suffer most. Enfield has serious health-finance deficit problems. It seems likely that NHS England (London) will use the new footprint to meet Enfield’s deficit out of Camden’s and Islington’s budget.

In the medium-term, services will be rationalised on a five-borough basis, which should give those of us who support the Whittington pause for thought. Islington residents need the Whittington, but in the future our voice will be one of five under this arrangement.

 

Professor Sue Richards,

St Peter’s ward

Former Professor of Public Management at the University of Birmingham and co-chair of the Centre for Health and the Public Interest.

The NHS and social care – the agenda for change

While there are strong local issues, the fundamental issues about the NHS and social care are national. They relate both to funding and the creeping privatisation of the NHS, and...

LGBT History Month, celebrated in February in the UK, is an annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, and the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements. 

The Labour Party’s work to educate and eradicate prejudice against the LGBT community, which has faced discrimination throughout history, carries on throughout the year: we organise to make discrimination illegal so that no LGBT person has to live in isolation and shame.

We have come a long way in achieving that, but victory is not yet won – we have a long way still to go: the fight for LGBT rights is far from over. The LGBT community continues to be a target for abuse, and even hate crime, and it is important for us to organise to maintain our hard-won rights. The support and determination of the Labour Party is crucial in that.

Success often seems to be out of reach, just over the horizon, but we must keep moving towards it. We have to keep going so that future generations will have the opportunity to continue with the fight.

Being able to live freely and openly in society is a pre-condition for total liberation: we cannot accept society’s judgement that our community is second- or third-class. We all have the right to live in different ways,to define and celebrate our differences.

Let’s celebrate the way change was made, organise to maintain it and evolve it further.

What we believe in, and expect, is quite simple: social, economic and political equality. We have the power to unite and to work together towards the changes that we need.

We don’t want just a piece of the pie, we want to change the pie.

Join Labour to help!

Candy Terra, Barnsbury ward

LGBT History Month

LGBT History Month, celebrated in February in the UK, is an annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, and the history of the gay rights and related civil...

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