According to last year’s figures Canterbury has one of the highest numbers of “rough sleepers” in the country – 38. The statistics are probably an overestimate because of how they are collated – a snapshot on one night – but the problem is real. I recently visited Kent wide charity Porchlight, at their Canterbury headquarters with City Council candidate Dave Wilson. Almost the first thing the workers tell us about is about funding cuts.
At a time when the need in growing, along with many other charities, their funding has been cut by 75%. Whereas they had 24 workers working across the county, they now have 6 to work with “rough sleepers”. This produces two main problems. It makes it harder to provide a consistent service and build trust and a relationship with rough sleepers. Secondly they are not in a position to provide a “blue light” service to assist people new to the streets.
The workers are clearly dedicated and positive – trying to make a difference to peoples’ lives and, in many cases succeeding. However they are between a rock and a hard place. The need is growing, but both the benefits system and the housing market conspires against them.
The benefits system conspires against rough sleepers trying to get a house and then a job. Landlords want a guaranteed income, there are administration fees and deposits. If eligible – the easiest solution is often housing benefit paid direct to the landlord. This is how 95% of our housing budget is being spent – not on housing, but on paying uncontrolled rent to private landlords. The cap on rents Labour is proposing will help.
The shortage of affordable housing means that there are just not enough tenancies to cater with the need – in Canterbury the high rents make this even more of a problem. If a rough sleeper overcomes these problems, then wants to get a job, it is likely to be zero hours, low paid or part-time. For the landlord this means their income could be at risk – for them it is better the person stays on benefits.
There is a statistic – a million to one. Over a million people sanctioned by the DWP. The one is the one person who has had proceedings taken against them as a result of the HSBC banking scandal. The union I used to work for, the PCS, is campaigning for their members in the DWP to do the job they should doing – helping people get the benefits they are entitled, not having targets to drive claimants off benefits.
The previous Saturday I had popped into the coffee morning for the local food banks. Now over a million users of food banks according to the Trussell Trust. The story was the same – dedicated volunteers working hard to provide a service to those in desperate need – to have food to put on the table.
The Welfare State was intended to get rid of squalor in this country, it is now being brutally recreated in this country with its benefit sanctions regime. Many of those being hit hardest have mental or physical health problems, they need help and support; not vilification.