Olly Grender on Homelessness, Domestic Violence and Social Exclusion: “Housing supply lies at the heart of the solution of some of these complex issues”

olly grenderOlly Grender — former director of communications for housing charity Shelter, now a Lib Dem peer — spoke in this week’s House of Lords debate, ‘Women: Homelessness, Domestic Violence and Social Exclusion’. Here’s what she said…

Baroness Grender (LD): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady King of Bow, for initiating this debate. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Rebuck, and the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on their moving and inspirational speeches. We look forward to many more. I also take this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lady Garden of Frognal on her return to the government Benches. It will not surprise her to hear me, as a woman on these Benches, say the more the merrier—more please.

The noble Baroness, Lady King, has managed to take three complex areas of social policy and combine them in one impressive debate. They are complex in part because the reasons behind the homelessness of women are sometimes hard to detect and far too often hidden away. They are complex indeed, but at the heart of this debate is a very simple truth, which is that there is a terrible cost when a woman has no home, no escape from violence and no apparent way back from social exclusion, as was so movingly described by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. It is likely that the cost is not just to her but to the children she may have with her, and to us as a nation as they grow up.

What is striking from all the information provided is how a child growing up in such circumstances is in real danger of getting into a similar cycle of being excluded from the system. Indeed, anyone who has seen someone grow up under the shadow of domestic violence will know that those scars run very deep. That is why the Troubled Families project led by Louise Casey has such significance, trying to capture and work with those children and families, ensuring that families learn those small steps—getting up and being clean, fed and off to school or work each day—which are all part of re-engaging with society. The Government’s introduction of the project and welcome extension of the scheme to an additional 400,000 of the most problematic families will, I believe, be looked back on one day as a turning point for those who are currently in a world that is almost unrecognisable. The recent news that 70,000 families’ lives have already been turned around is something that we should watch and review with interest.

I noted what the noble Baroness, Lady King, said right at the beginning about ideology. I believe that sometimes ideology overwhelms practical steps in this area. If we had moved away from ideology, perhaps today’s debate would be very different—if while selling homes under right to buy Baroness Thatcher had also built one or two at the same time and, likewise, Tony Blair after her. Lack of supply and the alternatives on offer mean that women are often hidden, reluctant to access mainstream homelessness services such as hostels, often because of concerns about safety, violence and sexual exploitation by other service users.

It is not much of a surprise that the Salvation Army, one of the biggest providers of services to homeless and vulnerable people, says that women will go to great lengths to stay away from the usual services, resorting instead to what was described by my noble friend Lady Tyler as sofa-surfing. In one case study, the person spent two years on different friends’ sofas, which is not unusual, particularly among homeless women. After all, how safe would any of us feel in some of the temporary accommodation currently on offer in these circumstances? That is why I am pleased that my own party’s policy is about getting to that target of a major programme of housebuilding, increasing the rate of construction until we reach at least 300,000 houses a year, using untapped sources of finance and giving more freedom to social landlords, local authorities and local communities.

Homeless Link, which represents 500 organisations supporting single homeless people, has reported that nearly a third of people in hostels are ready to move on but, as we all know—having been around this debate many times—there is nowhere suitable to go. I remember in the mid-1990s lobbying on behalf of Shelter for a major housebuilding programme and seeing the eyes of many leading politicians glaze over—including the then shadow Chancellor but with the honourable exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong. But we all know that supply lies at the heart of the solution of some of these complex issues. While I understand that some people on this side of the House would not welcome a robust and heated debate on any of these issues, I wish the noble Baroness, Lady King, all the luck in the world in her meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I will hold her handbag if she wishes.

I just want to raise one small policy point that illustrates the issue of ideology versus practicality. I think it is ideologically led that the current Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, has put on the table plans to double the fee to file a petition for divorce, charging £750 and making a profit for the state above costs of £30 million. I am absolutely delighted that Simon Hughes in the same department has opposed this. As we all know, women are by far the highest number of applicants for divorce, and among those, inevitably and tragically, there are women who must escape from a violent partner. No one should place top-dollar prices on that woman’s chance to get out of the relationship and no one should turn it into significant profit for the state.

I will close by praising the work of Ann Fowler House in Liverpool, run by the Salvation Army, which works in precisely the area that some noble Lords have described of separate service, working one on one with women who are victims of domestic violence to build skills and support self-esteem. We have heard so many really tragic stories that I thought it would be good to tell one that has a better ending. Joanne came to Ann Fowler House after suffering domestic violence. It was discovered that she had a skill of hairdressing. She has now qualified as a hairdresser. She returns once a week and has very quickly found herself somewhere to live. I thought it would be good to end on a nice note. I hope that this debate, and the debate that the noble Baroness has initiated, leads to more stories like Joanne’s. I thank the noble Baroness for raising it.

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3 Comments

  • Olly,
    Why do you no set up your own building company and learn about the actual problems of building? You are just another upper middle class person on the NGO gravy train. If you set up a company which built homes and then rented them out you would also learn about the complexities of letting and repairs. An ounce of experience is worth a pound of theory. It is only when you run you own company do you fully appreciate all the aspects of working in that business. If you ram your own construction company you could provide a wonderful example for other women to enter the construction company.

    Alternatively, you could run a canteen on a construction site and you would learn vast amounts vast amounts. The ladies who ran canteens are always extremely skillful and have invariably picked up a vast amount of knowledge about construction: sometimes they know about site management than the managers!

    Obviously the days when the Liberals were a party of the industry and manufacturing are long gone.

  • I think it would be fantastic acting Now ! Convert as many useable buildings into one bedroom apartments this will help free up more larger homes and help resolve the spare bedroom subsidy

    Set a target of 75k conversations should be say finding space above shops old civil buildings and perhaps failed high street buildings win win even helps with transport as nearer the town and employment

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