LibLink: Vince Cable What can be done to help street sleepers?

Some people were concerned that when Vince became leader, the high priority given to housing and homelessness during Tim Farron’s tenure in the top job might be lost.

Tim famously got involved in politics after watching Cathy Come Home.

However, those concerns were allayed at Christmas when helping homeless people was the focus of his Christmas Message and he has written further about those experiences in his regular column for his local paper, the Richmond and Twickenham Times.

He wrote about the various circumstances that had forced people he had met to sleep on the streets.

One man I talked to, who had lived for ten years under the arches of Waterloo Bridge, had never recovered from violence he experienced at home as a child from an alcoholic mother; he survives by selling “The Big Issue”.

But others have been forced onto the streets by the vagaries of unstable employment, expensive rents and inadequate or unavailable benefits.

I met a young man sleeping out in Covent Garden who was a chef, looking for work, who couldn’t afford the rent until his next job. Another had fallen through the cracks of Universal Credit, forced out of his home by lack of cash for the landlord.

He highlighted the aspects of welfare reform which caused so many problems.

So what can be done?

We need more emergency hostels – currently facing funding cuts which will hit provision by the Salvation Army and the YMCA.

There has to be a rethink of some of the brutal welfare cuts. The warm words about building affordable housing have to be supported by government action.

Mental health services have to be built up, not cut back as a soft option when NHS cuts are forced through. And we can all help by volunteering with local charities like SPEAR.

You can read the whole article here.

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28 Comments

  • Vince in his article wrote, that one of the many causes of homelessness and sleeping rough or being a sofa surfer is the fact that “housing benefit lags behind rents”. Our policies regarding housing benefits are:

    To abandon the freeze on the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and restore them to the 30th percentile of local rents for each type of accommodation which claimants are allowed to be funded for. We could be more radical and declare we want to increase it over 5 years gradually to the 40th percentile. Why should those claiming housing benefit be forced by the state to live in the bottom 30% worse accommodation assuming price has some relationship to the state of the accommodation?

    To restore housing benefit to those aged between 18 and 21. We could be more radical and abolish the requirement that single people under 35 can only be funded for a room in shared accommodation and instead allow them to live in a single room property.

    Personally I don’t understand how putting any restrictions on the amount of housing benefit a person can claim is liberal. I would increase the percentile to the 60th and apply them only to those people who change their accommodation after their claim has started. So no one would be forced to change their accommodation by the state because they can’t afford to live where they had been living before they became unemployed or too ill to work.

    He fails to mention that sanctions can cause homelessness and we need to have as our policy the elimination of the present sanction regime or that our current policy of just leaving a person with £5 for their food and heating is wrong (page 25 Policy Paper 124 “Mending the Safety Net ttps://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/12524/attachments/original/1470309098/Social_Security.pdf?1470309098 passed in 2016). The only condition anyone should need to meet is being unwell enough to work to receive Employment and Support Allowance and being unemployed, being available for work and doing things to find suitable employment for those receiving Jobseekers Allowance.

  • Vince fails to mention how hard it is for the homeless to receive Jobseekers Allowance or find accommodation. He doesn’t state how many new hostel places we are committed to funding during a five year Parliament.

    As he says “warm words” are not enough. We need to review our Social Security policy and set up a new policy working group that can radically reform the system with no financial restrictions apart from suggesting which taxes should be increased and by how much to afford a “safety net” fit for 2022 or even a truly liberal approach to benefits which reduces economic inequalities without any conditions.

  • Helen Dudden 6th Jan '18 - 5:14pm

    No address, that’s the problem. The cuts bite hard now.
    There needs to have some very serious deeds and actions. I still think more on helping those with dependency issues. This in turn adds to mental health.
    We should helping more, no wonder our next generation are struggling.
    The bedroom tax did little to promote moves, there is little to move too.

  • If you have no address you don’t exist under Universal Credit (as set up and established by a certain Coalition government which shall remain anonymous).

  • Helen Dudden 6th Jan '18 - 7:37pm

    Who ever was responsible, what happens next? A generation without foundations, this situation worsens daily.
    Young families paying nearly a £1000 a month, to keep a roof over their heads. As a grandmother I’ve never seen so much suffering. I suggested mobile type homes, this has happened in Reading. Temporary accommodation is not much fun for families.
    The single homeless have been caught without a way forward.

  • Homelessness on LDV?
    5 responses; even fewer than a nonsense thread about “LibDem winning the 2015 GE”…
    Warm words are a poor substitute for warm clothes, food and accomodation…£4 buys a pair of thermal socks at Primark; £4 buys a ‘Big Mac’ and £10 will enable the ‘Sally Army’, etc. to give a bed to a rough sleeper…

    Think about it

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 7th Jan '18 - 10:42am

    Expats, you are right. I did make a comment on another article, saying that Vince’s focus on homelessness gives hope that the party may begin the return to its core values in 2018, including the belief that no-one should be enslaved by poverty.
    It is totally unacceptable that, in a wealthy country, there should be people with no roof over their heads.
    I’m afraid the main parties have all tended to ignore the plight of the homeless. This may be because homeless people tend not to vote, or even to be registered to vote. They are entitled to, of course, although having no fixed address makes the registration process more complex. One thing we could look at, is finding ways to make it easier for homeless people to register to vote – although of course the main priority is to ensure that no-one is homeless.

  • @ expats ” nonsense thread about “LibDem winning the 2015 GE”…”, Interesting you mention that – there’s a thing that can get into some candidates’ heads – candidate euphoric fever – because said candidate poster ended up with 1.6% and fifth place.

    I’m afraid apathy abounds and you can see why the electorate doesn’t take the party seriously anymore. In a by-election in Borehamwood last week only 20 people out of an electorate of 6,200 bothered to vote Lib Dem. Yet another fifth place 1.7% triumph for the paper candidate platoon (it’s not a brigade).

    Wouldn’t you think in the comfy South East on the edge of London (no by-elections elsewhere and only Morecambe and Wise repeats on telly) the South East Regional Party could have piled in and put in some work ?

    I gather there’s a stuffed Dodo replica in the Oxford University History Museum. How long before it’s joined by a stuffed Lib Dem Liberty Bird ?

  • Richard Fortescue 7th Jan '18 - 11:15am

    We could summarise the various points above by saying that our policy should be that no person in the UK should be without accomodation and sufficient money for food, whatever the reasons for their lack of income (do we include people out of work and not taking active steps to find work in that? I would – they will never become active seekers of work if we try to ‘motivate’ them by putting them on the street – there, they just struggle to survive).

    Fair enough – expensive, but a progressive tax plan along the lines of the one we went into the last election with is fine by me and would help.

    It isn’t always that simple, however. When interviewing the homeless on the streets of Windsor, the beeb (sorry, can’t remember who), spoke to one person who had been offered accomodation miles away, but had declined it because it was better to sleep rough near family (elderly mother?) than to be separated and in accomodation. I can empathise with that person’s thinking – if you have no income you can’t travel. Of course this raises all sorts of questions about why that individual was on the street, but it does bring us straight back round to local provision of hostels and social housing.

    Right-to-buy has to go. We need quantities of social housing and unnuanced criteria (catch-all) for eligibility.

    I don’t know much about hostels for the homeless, but it feels like we need a partnership with the charity sector in this, rather than taking it over lock-stock as a local government function. Aim for many smallish hostels so that no one is ever very far from somewhere to stay? Efficiency arguments are, for me, outweighed by liberal and social arguments on this.

    Will we eliminate rough sleeping? Not a chance, but the numbers should be minuscule and every rough sleeper should know that there is somewhere nearby where they can get food and shelter if they choose.

    I think I just argued myself into supporting a ‘basic income’ policy.

  • Good points Richard, and I think I agree with most, possibly even all of it!

    One thing is clear, there are no simple solutions to what is a very complex problem, and it’s too easy to allow ourselves to be distracted from doing some good, because someone is complaining that it’s not a perfect solution, and whatabout …

    There are so many aspects, and sometimes it feels like it’s one step forward, and two steps backwards, but one step forward has been the growing appreciation of the role of mental health in homelessness. I hope we can continue to raise awareness of this aspect, and to push for the right sort of services that will lead to more sustainable solutions and hopefully catch more people before they get into serious trouble.

  • Homelessness cannot be tackled without a revival of well funded local government. Local Government has had (whether it still has is a moot point) the local knowledge and expertise to tackle the issue.

    Austerity has produced death by a thousand cuts in recent years. Unless this is reversed with regard to local government funding then nothing will change.

    As to the Tory Leader of Windsor, words almost fail me….. other than to say that the Lib Dems came second in his ward (Maidenhead Riverside in Mrs May’s constituency) last time and that Maidenhead Lib Dems now ought to be out there gunning for him in a high profile campaign to get the man out.

    Party HQ could lead this if they have any nous. Getting his scalp next May would be a major victory for decency. MAIDENHEAD , get out there and beat him.

  • The government has to stop talking and get on with it, we have had study after study telling us we need x y z in a b c and then nothing happens and a new report is commissioned.

    We need a mass building program of new council estates with eco friendly prefabs which will boost manufacturing and building.
    End the right to buy scheme immediatly
    Any former Local authority housing brought under right to buy scheme that comes back on the market for say £150k and under should be bought back by the local authority, this would bring back much needed flats and some houses back into the housing stock.

    More hostels and supported housing schemes for vulnerable adults.

    Any homes that were bought under right to buy that are now in the hands of buy to let landlords should have to be offered for rent to the local authority private leasing scheme first. (Although it pays below market rates, the tenant is the council and rent is guaranteed regardless of whether the council has a tenant in there)

    LHA percentile should be raised to 40th at bare minimum.

    Housing benefit paid directly to Landlords

    Universal Credit should be paid Fortnightly and not monthly, it is harder enough for people in employment paid monthly to juggle their finances and make money last, let alone people living on subsistence benefits.

    Ban ownership of 2nd homes unless they are lived in for at least 16 weeks of the year. When there are scarce resources it can not be right that there are homes sat empty for 350+ days a year if not longer.

    The only way to solve the SOCIAL housing crisis is to build the darn things, adding 3 or 4 affordable housing units to large private developments is not going to cut it.

  • Peter Hirst 7th Jan '18 - 2:27pm

    Concerning the specific issue of rough sleeping, I can’t believe it is a capacity problem and if it is, it is really a funding challenge. I think the real issue is not knowing who is sleeping rough on any particular night. My idea is to encourage people to phone in on their mobile phones to a freephone and give the information. This involves the electorate and so pushes it up the political agenda. If it is a forced choice then those concerned can inform the central agency where they will be sleeping, avoiding teams going out unnecessarily. I know homelessness is much more complicated and rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg though very visible.

  • @ Matt “Universal Credit should be paid Fortnightly”.

    Why ? If state pension can be paid into a bank account on a weekly basis, then so could Universal Credit.

  • @David Raw
    “Why ? If state pension can be paid into a bank account on a weekly basis, then so could Universal Credit.”

    I agree.
    I was not aware that Pensions were paid weekly, I just knew that JSA and ESA were paid fortnightly and believe at the very least universal credit should have been kept in line with this instead of the monthly payments.
    But of course, a benefit that is paid weekly is far more desirable for people who are struggling and find it difficult to manage

  • Malcolm Todd 7th Jan '18 - 5:23pm

    matt 7th Jan ’18 – 1:51pm
    “The only way to solve the SOCIAL housing crisis is to build the darn things,”

    Indeed. Once in a while it’s worth enunciating the sheer simplicity of the basic solution. I can’t wait to hear all the reasons why that’s not what we’re doing!

  • Peter Hirst 7th Jan ’18 – 2:27pm…….. If it is a forced choice then those concerned can inform the central agency where they will be sleeping, avoiding teams going out unnecessarily…….

    Most of the time ‘they’ don’t know where they will be sleeping…Those who have a long term base are the exception rather than the rule…Rough sleepers can be moved on by police, hassled by drunks and teenagers, etc. They can be sleeping half a mile away from where they were yesterday…

  • David Allen 7th Jan '18 - 5:46pm

    The house building lobby say that the answer to all our problems is to build more houses. What they rarely point out is that, when they do this, they normally seek to meet market demand. That means, they build houses which somebody will pay them money for. That means, they will meet the demand from people who have the money to get the houses they want. They will not meet the demand from the homeless, or from generation rent, because that demand is not backed by money. Given that the house builders have to make a profit in a capitalist system (and that broadly, we do support a capitalist system), their attitude makes perfect sense, from their own point of view. However, it won’t solve the housing and homelessness crisis, and nobody should pretend that it will.

    At the last election, the headline figure put forward by the Lib Dems was the total number of houses we proposed to build. We did also talk about affordable housing, but it did rather look like an attempt to triangulate between the house building lobby and the social housing lobby – which was not helpful.

    Actually, there is no great pent-up demand for “executive” detached housing, which is what builders like to build for maximum profit. That’s why builders don’t race to flood the market with executive housing once they have gained planning permissions. They prefer to bank land, build just enough to make a decent return, and avoid building so much that prices start falling.

    We need to be clearer. We shoudn’t try to encourage any more executive-type housing than the market actually calls for. We shouldn’t talk about the total number of houses we are going to build. We should just talk about a SOCIAL housing programme, which meets the UNMET need of those who cannot influence the market, because they do not have money.

  • Katharine Pindar 7th Jan '18 - 7:16pm

    @ David Allen. I agree, David, that we need to strengthen our housing policy. The Manifesto, Section 6 Support Families and Communities, commits us to aiming to build ‘Half a million affordable and energy-efficient homes’ by 2022, being part of a target of building 300,000 houses a year. I think as you do that there are too many executive-type houses being built, and we should declare for building Social housing. We also proposed a ‘Rent to own model’ and a ‘Help to rent scheme’, first refusal for tenants to buy the house their landlord is selling and various other alleviations. It all sounds worthy and extensive, but needs now that we have time to be narrowed down and concentrated as our policy.

    We should also take another look at our proposals on welfare, which as Michael BG wrote are in the Policy Paper 124 Mending the Safety Net (and the subsequent acceptance of it at Conference), to update and extend them in view of the current sad state of homelessness described here, and to propose to be much more generous as Michael and Matt both demand. That will require more central government support for local government services, much needed as David Raw points out.

    We have much to work on at our March Conference, as well as to campaign on immediately.

  • @ David Allen

    I don’t have a problem with our target for building 300,000 a year (I think maybe 1.5 million in the five years of a Parliament might be better). However, I think it should include 150,000 social houses either Council houses or Housing Association houses. I think it is important to build enough houses to buy to reduce the increases in house prices and make them more affordable.

    Some people posting here do not seem to have read the reasons Vince gives for sleeping rough. As I stated a single person under 35 if they find themselves unemployed or too ill to work will not be paid enough to pay the rent on the homes they rent. They will only be paid enough to live in the bottom 30% of single rooms.

    @ Malcolm Todd

    Building more social homes will not be enough unless either they are the right type and include rooms in shared accommodation or we abolish the restrictions on how much the government will pay towards someone’s rent. Also we need to abolish the sanction regime.

  • Antony Watts 7th Jan '18 - 7:32pm

    Can we establish some principles first: it’s simple, zero tolerance of homelessness, zero. 100% someone’s responsibility, to provide a home, a real home, not a one room hostel.

    Now we can discuss who this shall be, councils? And the activity behind the issue: basic income?

    Let’s understand that the homeless are people, real human caring loving people. Any civil society cannot ignore them or blame them for not achieving a living for them selves. We need to solve the problem fist, then develop them in finding their feet.

  • Peter Martin 7th Jan '18 - 7:40pm

    Sure, we need to build new houses but we also need to make full and better use of the housing stock we have. That’s not likely when there’s a financial incentive for those who can afford to buy property to do so even if they don’t really need it.

    http://metro.co.uk/2017/05/11/map-reveals-shocking-number-of-empty-homes-across-london-6630121/

  • Spencer Hagard 7th Jan '18 - 8:14pm

    One country in the EU – Finland – has essentially solved the homelessness problem. The Finns have devised a solution that doesn’t require rocket science, namely to provide homeless people with homes! It could work here (and elsewhere) too.

    It was reported in the UK media nearly a year ago: https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2017/mar/22/finland-solved-homelessness-eu-crisis-housing-first

    It should be urgently adopted as Lib Dem policy, setting out the necessary practical details and financing of how we could make it work in the UK.

  • David Allen 7th Jan '18 - 10:46pm

    Thanks Katharine and Michael for the figures. So our present policy talks about building 1,500,000 houses in 5 years, of which 500,000 should be “affordable and energy efficient”. Michael would prefer it to be 750,000 social houses and 750,000 others, but argues that we do need the 750,000 others, in order to stop prices rising too fast.

    However, that presumes that the reason why house prices are fairly buoyant is because of their scarcity. I would suggest it is more to do with the fact that a house is a good investment, thanks partly to favourable tax treatment and favourable conditions (though recently made less favourable) for buy-to-let landlords. If we were to boost the market for private house building, we would probably have to do it by improving the incentives to build and to buy. That would cause house prices to rise, not fall.

    Another reason for not favouring excessive private house building is what we can call the environmental lobby (when we are feeling generous) or the nimby vote (when we aren’t). Many people oppose “concreting over the countryside”. If we can make it clear that we will concentrate very much on social housing, without excessive building overall, then we won’t throw away that vote.

  • Helen Dudden 8th Jan '18 - 7:40am

    Another house build set in the outskirts of Bath, 8 in number. That’s not enough to include social housing. Million pound properties, the developer can’t afford the social housing promised for the over 55’s. Bath is now becoming a city for the tourist and the students. One more the very wealthy. Students it seems question the high cost of some developments.
    One post suggests needed homes, but if the developers can make profits is there enough concerns about how?
    I agree, universal credit weekly, I know person stated it felt like a punishment for being in this situation. High costs on the phone line, the long wait.
    Good housing will help with the prevention of mental health and good health generally. It’s awful to be cold in a poorly insulated damp home.
    We do need to have a government with commitment, not just ideas!

  • @ Peter Martin

    I don’t understand why there should be an increase in empty homes. I thought Councils could charge extra Council Tax for homes left empty for long periods of time. I don’t consider 6 month a long period of time.

    @ Spencer Hagard

    I wonder if many members would object to us having a policy like Finland. I wouldn’t. My removal of the restrictions on what level of rent the government would pay is only one part of it. The other is to build enough homes to house everyone and I can support that (more than 300,000 new homes a year anyone?)

    @ David Allen

    The price of a home is related to demand and supply. As liberals we are likely to do little with reducing demand therefore we have to increase supply. I don’t see a huge number of homes in my area up for rent. I do notice houses don’t remain on the market for long. Also the number of younger people who own their own home has reduced and continues to reduce. I conclude this means there is greater demand for homes to buy to live in. Do you know if there are any figures on the number of homes up for sale each year and how many are purchased so they can be let?

    I agree with you help to buy schemes increase demand and so prices. The government could just build homes to sell as well as providing finance and conditions for Councils and Housing Associations to build more social housing. It could introduce Land Value Taxation with very high taxation on land with planning permission for homes but the property is not in residential use.

    I have looked at this houses built graph (http://www.parliament.uk/ImageVaultFiles/id_11226/cf_578/olympic-housingandhomelife-socialhousing-chart1-st.jpg) and I can’t see any year in which more than about 200,000 new council homes were built.

    If the whole 1.5 million homes were social homes there would be very little effect on the amount of land needed to build them unless you are only building one or two bedroom homes and/or flats.

  • Peter Martin 8th Jan '18 - 10:15am

    @ Michael,

    It’s often difficult to determine whether a house is actually empty. If the owner sleeps there 1% of the time, is that empty? If they have a housekeeper, does that person count as a resident? So I would expect that the figures in the link supplied previously don’t tell anywhere near the full story.

  • David Raw 7th Jan ’18 – 11:03am……[email protected] expats ” nonsense thread about “LibDem winning the 2015 GE”…”, I gather there’s a stuffed Dodo replica in the Oxford University History Museum. How long before it’s joined by a stuffed Lib Dem Liberty Bird ?

    “Lib Dem Liberty”?
    Having read this ‘chilling’ response to a couple of mild posts disagreeing with a subject……………….”There will be some changes to the way we moderate comments round here, helpfully illustrated by some of the comments on this thread. Those by Lorenzo and Psi are the type of things that will not get through in the future on any post. We have some work to do to make sure that these threads are places of illuminating, interesting, thoughtful, respectful debate”…….

    That is one of the most illiberal statements I’ve read on any site and my comment asking what was so offensive was removed…LibDem voice? Not mine.

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