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Parliament’s homelessness report tragic


homelessness report, nia, women at the well, homeless women, Communities and Local Government Select Committee report‘The impact of welfare reforms of recent years has increased pressure on the levels of homelessness’.

‘A demonstrable increase in homelessness, driven by the cost and availability of housing, has pushed the problem to such a level that a renewed government-wide strategy is needed’, the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Select Committee has concluded in a report published recently.

The Committee also found that despite some examples of great work, it is not acceptable that the level of support offered to vulnerable people varies significantly across the country.

It points out that ‘women who have been victims of domestic violence are particularly at risk of becoming homeless, and there is currently insufficient support to help them escape homelessness’.

And there are particular challenges for homeless women, who are at a greater risk of sexual violence, prostitution or engaging in unhealthy relationships in order to access accommodation, the report said.

Presenting evidence to the Committee, the Nia Project argued that women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness will often take almost any measure, including measures that increase their vulnerability to predatory and exploitative individuals, in order to avoid being street homeless.

Women At The Well, a women-only drop-in centre in Kings Cross, explained that many of their clients report engaging in unwanted sexual liaisons to avoid rough sleeping and to ensure they secure accommodation each night.

Agenda reported that 28 per cent of homeless women have formed an unwanted sexual partnership to get a roof over their heads, and 20 per cent have engaged in prostitution to raise money for accommodation.

And in its conclusions and recommendations the Committee calls on the government to ensure that sufficient resources are available to meet this very real need.

It also recommends that the government review the level of refuges and hostel accommodation for single people and consider providing additional resources for further provision in areas of highest need.

Many people are badly treated by council staff and those who are judged not to be in priority need are often poorly served and sent away without any meaningful support or guidance.

The Committee also calls on the government to monitor councils, identify those not meeting their duties and review and reinforce the statutory Code of Practice to ensure the levels of service that local authorities must provide are clear.

The government should also consider setting a statutory duty for local authorities to provide meaningful support to single homeless people with a local connection after the inquiry found that many people receive little more than a list of local letting agents.

The report explains that a shortage of social housing means many people rely on the private rented sector to avoid or escape homelessness, but often the financial barriers or instability of tenancies are too great.

It urges the government to work with local authorities to provide homes for affordable rent and says local housing benefit levels should be reviewed to more closely reflect market rents.

Other recommendations, conclusions and findings include:

The impact of welfare reforms of recent years has increased pressure on the levels of homelessness;

That the Secretary of State should write to all local authorities to reiterate their duties when placing families outside their areas;

The government should review the level of refuge and hostel accommodation and consider providing additional resources for further provision with regard to victims of domestic abuse;

The government must takes steps as a matter of urgency to improve data collection on homelessness and implement the recommendations of the UK Statistics Authority;

The Committee does not advocate the abolition of the priority need criterion in England;

Housing benefit recipients should have the option of their benefit being paid directly to the landlord to reduce likelihood of arrears and increase landlord confidence;

Landlords should be encouraged to offer longer Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements, which the tenants allowed to break tenancy early without penalty; and

The government should consider allowing housing benefit to be used for costs in supported housing for a short period of time to facilitate the transition from homelessness to employment.

Clive Betts MP, chair of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, said: “No one should be homeless in Britain today, but the reality is that more and more people find themselves on the streets, in night shelters or going from sofa to sofa to keep a roof over their heads.

“They are often driven there by the availability and cost of housing and have been failed by front line support services along the way.

“The scale of homelessness is now such that a renewed government strategy is a must.

“It needs to not only help those who are homeless but also prevent those vulnerable families and individuals who are at risk of becoming homeless from joining them.

“All Departments will need to subscribe to this common approach and contribute to ending homelessness.

“Local authorities also have a big part to play.

“The Committee recognises they face a significant task with funding pressures and legal obligations, but vulnerable people are too often badly treated, being made to feel like they are at fault, and offered ineffectual and meaningless advice.

“We want the government to monitor local authorities and help them achieve best practice.

“The Committee has made a number of recommendations and we plan to follow up many of these issues in a year’s time to see what progress is being made.”

To read the report, click here.

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