Jim Murphy – 2006 Speech on Homelessness

jimmurphy

Below is the text of the speech made by Jim Murphy, the then Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform, to the 16th November 2006.

Introduction

I’m very pleased to have this opportunity to join you this morning – to offer my support for the invaluable work that so many of you here are doing to tackle homelessness – and, of course, to celebrate the launch of the Transitional Spaces Project.

Why tackling homelessness is so important

Tackling homelessness is about much more than simply putting a roof over someone’s head.

It’s about understanding the causes and addressing the factors that so often lead to homelessness, such as:

– relationship and family breakdown;

– debt and unemployment;

– mental health problems; and

– alcohol or drug dependency.

Tackling these issues helps provide a way back for people on a path to homelessness – helping them to hold on to a place to live even when facing other challenges in their lives.

We know that – if we don’t tackle the root causes – many homeless people can get trapped in a vicious cycle of deprivation; a cycle that eats away at their confidence and self-esteem; a cycle that was so vividly portrayed for the first time 40 years ago today – when the BBC first aired the drama documentary “Cathy Come Home.”

12 million people – a quarter of the British population at the time – watched the story of Cathy and Reg. Initially a happy couple, their lives spiral downwards when Reg loses his job. After periods of squatting, eviction and care homes, finally – on a suburban street in front of astonished passers-by – Cathy has her children forcibly taken away from her by the social services.

It shook the social conscience of a nation. Even as recently as 2000, a British Film Institute poll voted it the 2nd Greatest British Television Programme of the 20th Century.

Progress

We’ve come a long way in 40 years. The Homelessness Persons Act of Callaghan’s 1977 Government finally put a duty on local authorities to find accommodation for homeless applicants. And despite a marked lack of progress in the early 1980s and 1990s – this Government has made huge strides forwards:

Today rough sleeping is down nearly three-quarters since 1998;

We’ve ended the scandal of families spending long periods living in bed and breakfasts;

The number of new cases of homelessness is at a 23 year low – down 29% on the same period last year; and

We’ve set the ambitious target of halving the number of households living in temporary accommodation by 2010 – and have already seen a 7% reduction over the past year.

Much of this progress has been down to many of you here today. A result of ground-breaking partnerships with local authorities and the voluntary sector in tackling the root causes of homelessness.

Key to our success now is preventing people from ever getting onto the downward spiral that can lead to homelessness and despair.

Through our Supporting People programme we are investing more than £5 billion over three years in locally delivered services to help people maintain independent lives through more settled housing.

In the past decade we have doubled the funding for affordable housing and supported the creation of 230,000 new affordable homes.

We’re investing in social housing and increasing the supply of new social homes by 50 per cent by 2008, providing 75,000 new social homes over the next three years.

And, as our response to the Barker Review of Housing Supply made clear – we’re committed to going further and making social housing a priority in the next spending round as well.

Challenge ahead

But we need to go further. We know:

There are still up to 500 people on the streets on a single night; and

More than 90,000 households are still living in temporary accommodation.

The challenges and causes of homelessness are changing. And our response must reflect these new challenges. We know that the single biggest cause of homelessness – accounting for nearly one-in-four new cases – is where parents are no longer willing to accommodate young people; and while one in five cases results from the breakdown of relationships.

That’s why earlier this week the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government unveiled a package of measures specifically designed to tackle the root causes of homelessness – with a particular focus on the rising prevalence of youth homelessness – and the need for access to mediation services, to try and prevent the breakdown of relationships in families leading to homelessness.

It means saying no to the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for 16-17 year olds, except in emergencies;

It means training community volunteers and establishing supported lodgings across the country – that don’t just provide accommodation – but also advice and mediation services for young people; and

It means making the initial move into supported accommodation a springboard for helping people turn their lives around, not the beginning of a downward spiral of rejection and dependency.

Off the Streets and Into Work (OSW)

As your report “Multiple Barriers, Multiple Efforts” highlighted, tackling homelessness requires a truly joined-up, holistic approach. Not one that tackles each barrier separately.

That’s why it’s absolutely right that Off the Streets and Into Work should be making the connection between homelessness and worklessness. In “Cathy Come Home” it was, of course, when Reg lost his job that Cathy and Reg’s problems really began.

Most of OSW’s clients are unemployed – nearly a third have been unemployed for more than three years.

But we also know that many homeless people aspire to work. Your own survey in May last year (“No home, No job”) – the most extensive study of its kind in Europe – found that 97% of respondents said they would like to work in the future. And over three-quarters wanted to work straightaway.

We need to go further in ensuring that labour market policy is properly joined up with housing and homelessness policy.

We know, for example, that temporary accommodation can attract high management charges and the resulting high rents can be seen as a barrier to employment.

That’s why we’re working with DCLG and OSW to support the Working Future project being tested by the GLA and East Thames Group. One hundred households in temporary accommodation in East London being offered lower rents in return for increased training opportunities and tailored employment support.

We know that voluntary work or work experience plays an essential role in helping homeless people reconnect with work. As one respondent to your survey said:

“It gives you the opportunity to work in areas that you thought were beyond you.”

That’s why it was so important that we listened to you – and changed the rules on volunteers’ lunch expenses – allowing those on benefits to have their lunch expenses disregarded for benefit purposes. To make it easier for people who are on benefits to volunteer – and to take those crucial early steps on the road to work.

As well as the transition into work – it’s clear we also need to shift the focus away from simply getting a job to supporting people to progress in the workplace.

Through Jobcentre Plus and our wider welfare to work strategy – we have invested heavily in helping people find work. Our welfare reforms – the reform of Incapacity Benefit and our investment in the tailored support of Pathways to Work – are renewing a sense of hope and opportunity for those who have been written off by the welfare system for years.

But our future success will hinge not just on getting people into work – but on supporting them to stay in work and to acquire the skills, confidence and ambition to progress though the workplace. This is the new challenge for welfare. Getting people into work is only the start. Keeping them in work and helping them to progress through the labour market must be our objectives.

Our work to transform hostels – including the current £90 million Hostels Capital Improvement Programme – will make an important contribution by making hostels places where people can acquire skills and training to progress in their lives. Ending the “revolving door” of homelessness and helping people to build their way out of poverty and dependency.

Role of Housing Benefit Reform

Housing Benefit also needs to promote work and support a greater independence. Complexity and lack of transparency in Housing Benefit can act as a barrier to work. When payment is made to the landlord it does nothing to help tenants in developing their financial and budgeting skills or their sense of independence.

By contrast, our new Local Housing Allowance – a flat-rate amount based on household size and location – is paid in most cases to the tenant rather than the landlord. It’s already operating successfully for private sector tenants in 18 local authority areas – and we intend to extend it to new customers across the whole private rented sector.

But with 80% of those receiving Housing Benefit living in social housing and the highest levels of worklessness being in this sector – we’re also clear that there’s a strong case for reforming Housing Benefit for social tenants. While that means recognising the significant differences between the private rental market and social housing – we need to find a way of enabling social tenants to exercise a greater degree of personal responsibility in respect of their managing their finances.

Transitional Spaces Project

Even with Government action to increase the supply of social housing, we need to make better use of existing housing stock – including, with adequate safeguards, embracing the possibilities and choices offered by the private rented sector.

That’s why I’m so keen today to launch the Transitional Spaces Project – a new project that will combine an innovative incentive scheme and a transitional support package to link employment with sustainable moves from hostel accommodation into the private rented sector.

Two pilots: one in Tyneside and one here in London – working with 100 people a year over three years.

Not just providing financial support – but practical and motivational support to help with job-search, CV preparation, interview skills, training and mentoring, financial literacy, budgeting and even mediation with employers if needed. Not just working with people to think about employment – but to think about a career.

Not just doing more of what we already do – but doing things differently. Testing the boundaries of what is possible and forming new alliances and new partnerships which themselves can – and I believe must – drive further progress in tackling homelessness.

Conclusion

Because ultimately there can be no place for homelessness in our society.

Forty years ago “Cathy Come Home” – helped change societal attitudes as well as the Government’s approach. Today we’re still talking about it.

Since then – together – we’ve made enormous strides in tackling and preventing homelessness. But there is much more to do. And it is only by continuing to work together that we can help even more people out of a cycle of homelessness and into independent and settled lives.

We need to finish the job. Homelessness has no place in a sustainable community. Like poverty and disadvantage, our aim should be to eradicate it.