One of the best bloggers that I read regularly is my friend Andy Winter, CEO of Brighton Housing Trust whose latest blog posted yesterday on the Government announcement of £1.25M for Brighton and Hove to ‘to prevent homelessness in the first place’ according to Minister Sajid Javid. The blog Andy has written is first rate and frankly I would strongly recommend reading his piece before you finish reading mine.
As Andy suggests the Council has done well to secure 2.5% of the total sum that the Government has released for this one off payment. My gut feeling is that if this funding decision was not about soundbite politics and winning influence, indeed if the Government was serious about ending Street Homelessness they would have not only given far more money overall as Andy suggests, but Brighton as one of the major centres for Homelessness in the UK would have received a great deal more than 2.5%. However announcements for funding will always attract attention and had Brighton received say 15% of the sum, then the temptation for other nearby towns and cities to direct their ‘problems’ at our city would have been very high. Even if the sums were of the right size and right proportion, which they are clearly not, the intentions behind the money are far from clear. Our new Prime Minister, experiencing her first Christmas in the role made a speech which would have been judged extremely harshly if Cameron had used the same words simply because of his refusal to even visit a foodbank “In the run up to Christmas, images of soup kitchens and hostels remind us of the vital lifeline provided by charities and local services to those facing a night on the streets.” Meanwhile as already mentioned the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Javid also made a speech “We’re making this £50 million funding available across the country this Christmas for ambitious programmes to prevent homelessness in the first place, so that by next year many more people will have been helped to get their lives back on track.”
The problem with these speeches when taken together is they are talking about very different issues. The need to deal with both the causes and the symptoms of homelessness is not in question, but the sums which are already very insignificant when one looks at the symptoms, are dwarfed when one looks at the symptons. Perhaps if the sum had been £500M to deal with the symptoms and £50Bn to begin to deal with some of the causes we would be looking in the right area. Anyone who reads Andy’s blogs regularly will know he focuses on both ends of the issue, but to prevent homelessness depends on a number of factors such as supplies of affordable housing, a provision of jobs that give regular and reliable income to match the cost of living and a meaningful safety net in terms of the welfare state that this Government has all but dismantled. Also dealing with ‘social’ issues such as gambling and drug taking along with excessive use of alcohol, all of which are seen as appealing and acceptable in the lives of some of our richest celebrities, several of whom have sadly died this Christmas, yet when transacted by people on the margins of society can have a catastrophic affect on them and their wider families. Persuading people like Javid and May to address gambling legislation or for them to persuade some of our MPs and Peers to shop the suppliers of their drugs of choice, or to end the availability of cheap alcohol on our streets is something they would never contemplate. However they would be easy solutions compared to reversing some of the worst decisions taken in the DWP over the last 5 years.
Once the publicity for this funding decision has died down perhaps we could ask the Government in the form of Javid and May to consider something a bit more far reaching and substantial. They are not alone in having an interest in this area. Along with people such as Andy Winter and those running food banks there are the shelters and soup kitchens mentioned by Theresa May. There are also other charities focusing in one way or another on preventing homelessness. Housing Associations, the Citizens Advice services and charities trying to displace loan sharks and ensure that benefits are not cut by poor decision making in the DWP. Yet there are still others. One imagines that the shareholders in Debenhams would like to find a way of reversing their embarrassment over the soaking of Russell Allen by a security guard in the Portsmouth store and those businesses that spend sums of money on having spikes fitted to the outside of their premises would surely prefer to invest in ways that deal with the problem, not simple move on the symptoms to their neighbours. If Theresa and Sajid are serious, perhaps they could commit themselves to a New Years Resolution that they will do all that they can, not just what is expedient and in doing so, commit themselves to working with others.