If the people who are meant to come up with the answers to these problems are so complacent, then I can only see the situation getting worse. It seems to me that we need some more detailed analysis, so we can demonstrate to our so called leaders that they need to think again. The Barnet Eye does not expect miracles of our politicians. We do however expect them to do their job and work hard to come up with answers. As they clearly don't understand the issues and have no strategy to address them, the Barnet Eye will provide a detailed analysis of each of the 9 major risks, giving a commentary and our suggestions for improvement. We will be doing it the same order as in the report.
Today we start with Homelessness. This was deemed the most critical risk. Partially be design and partially by accident, I start this blog having just returned from a morning shift at The Passage, a Homeless day centre in Victoria, where I volunteer on a weekly basis, serving breakfast for Londons Homeless. I have been doing this every Thursday for just over two years. What does the Council say about Homelessness in their report?
There is a risk that homelessness and the subsequent provision of short term temporary accommodation will continue to rise.
The Council has an obligation to house people that are homeless and support families who are intentionally homeless. Unemployment, economic downturn exacerbated by welfare and benefit reform and high market rents are the primary causes of homelessness, increasing gap between temporary accommodation subsidy rates and cost of the accommodation. Increasing the demand for housing and putting pressure on the supply of affordable housing.
Substantial increase in homelessness including intentional homelessness where children are involved and the subsequent provision of affordable housing at a significant and increasing cost to the Council.
Developing plans around three areas:
1. increasing prevention activities, joint working with job centre plus
2. increase opportunities of affordable housing supply
3. Develop options of affordable supply in more affordable locations
Action plan being monitored by Lead Commissioner and reported to Delivery Board monthly.
Welfare and Benefit Programme (including partners) in place to determine impact, performance indicators in place to monitor impact.
Impact - Major 4
Probability - Almost Certain 5
Rating - High 20
Of all of the sections in this report, this one I found the most shocking. As it is a subject I know a little bit about, what was most shocking was the complete ignorance of the subject shown in this report. My experience tells me that the Council have no real understanding of the causes of homelessness, which means that they cannot even begin to address the issue.
The two major causes of homelessness in London are relationship breakup and substance abuse. Economic factors play a role in the problem, welfare reform has massively increased pressure, and high rents are an issue, but for the council to say nothing about the main causes to me sets off all of the warning signals. Another major cause of homelessness, unmentioned above is mental illness. Surveys have shown that up to 70% of Londons hard core homeless have some sort of psychological issues, which have resulted in them being unable to maintain a stable home life.
As one may expect from an ideologically right wing administration, there is some perjorative language in the report. The Council talks about families becoming "intentionally homeless". What they mean by this is that families are not prepared to bring up children in unsuitable accomodation. No one with children ever sets out to become "intentionally homeless". Sometimes however circumstances make it the only option. With housing benefit caps, some families have been placed in a position where they cannot afford to pay the rent. Whilst these rules are not the fault of the London Borough of Barnet, the senior members of the Party locally and the local MP's should be lobbying government to explain why London has a completely different economy to depressed regions. I am not aware of any lobbying by any of the three Barnet MP's to get a better settlement for London. In fact Mike Freer MP (Finchley & Golders Green) has specifically targetted the homeless in anti squatting legislation.
I happen to believe that every child in the UK has a right to a safe and secure home. I believe that every child should get three nutritious meals a day and an education. Some children (such as mine) are lucky enough to be brought into stable homes, where meals are provided, heating is turned on in winter, and Mummy and Daddy provide a free taxi service. There are plenty of children who, through circumstances take none of that for granted. The Council may bury its head in the sand, but Barnet is a very wealthy Borough and it is scandalous that the Council has no coherent policy to address these issues.
Every study has shown that the earlier problems are detected, the less long term damage they do, when dealing with the problems from the fallout from homelessness and relationship breakdown. Where parents have issues with substance abuse, support is vital to ensuring that the cycle is broken and children don't fall into the same path as parents. Dealing with problems early is always cheaper than picking up the pieces when families deteriorate.
So what should Barnet be doing? My view is that they need to set up an "economic hardship unit" to proactively try and manage the problems of homelessness and economic marginalisation. The first goal would be that every child in Barnet has a roof over its head, three meals a day and an education. I would put support into place to help parents deal with issue of alcohol and substance abuse (in a non judgemental way). Giving training and work opportunities to parents is another part of the picture, I would therefore say that the unit should provide childcare facilities, where parents are attending training courses. It is also vital that children are properly fed.
I would also like to see more help for adults dealing with homelessness. At the passage we see a lot of ex service people living on the street. They have difficulties coping with adjusting to civilian life. It seems that there is little support from the government for people who have served and this is scandalous.
There is also a major issue with migrant workers, who fall on hard times. Again this is often drink related. It is not fashionable to say that the taxpayer should help migrants, but what is the alternative? Often they have come to the UK looking for work and then found themselves out of work and living on the streets. Some will return home, but often do not even have the money to pay for a ticket back.
The problem of homelessness is not exclusive to Barnet. What does worry me is that it is growing at a huge rate locally. Am I alone in thinking that it is scandalous that luxury flats are being built all over the Borough, hugely rewarding property developers, when there is a basic lack of provision of basic housing for those at the bottom of the pile. Sadly there is a philosophy that the rich lining their pockets is fine and dandy, but God help the poor souls at the bottom of the pile, if they have the audacity to think they are entitled to a basic standard of living.
The sad truth is that to solve the Barnet Homelessness crisis we need the following
1. Affordable decent quality social housing
2. Effective drug and alcohol rehabilitation services
3. Effective intervention for families leading chaotic lifestyles
4. Educational and retraining opportunities for the unemployed
5. Effective services for people with psychological disorders.
Until these issues are addressed there is no prospect of the homeless crisis in Barnet abating. The saddest thing of all is that our politicians seem unwilling to even start the difficult conversation necessary to start the ball rolling.
Here is the full report.