Blog

  • Categories
  • Category Archives: Housing

    At a time of heightened public interest in the future of social care, what would be the way forward guided by the principle of social justice? Some of it is in plain view and takes the form of immediate funding shortfalls. The only issue is the political will to find the money. Important as these issues are, their resolution will do nothing to redress what many believe is the most painful injustice of all. The system used to identify ‘need’ and allocate resources – based on the eligibility ‘needs test’ –  is not only inherently inequitable but works in a way that deprives the individual of the control over their lives essential to us all for our dignity, self worth and wellbeing. The system built around the needs test is obscure to the public and has no public appeal. It need be no surprise that social care cannot muster the political will to address the more obvious funding shortfalls.

    For a truly socially just system the ‘needs test’ must be abolished and replaced with a system that manages the tension between needs and resources very differently. This will not require more money. But it will require political will and the intellectual effort for new thinking.

    The immediate funding issues

    Before considering the needs test, it may be worth reflecting on the immediate funding issues.

    The issue presently uppermost in the public mind is the undervaluing of care staff. With something like 1 million care staff, every pound an hour they are paid will cost about £1.8BN

    Not far behind that in the public mind, and with a political head of steam developing to do something about it, is the means test. It results in the unfairness of the ‘dementia tax’, of people having to sell their houses to pay for care, and of as many people funding their own care or going without as receive state support.

    There are two proposals to reform the means test. One is the idea of the ‘care cap’ – a lifetime limit to how much an individual would have to pay in charges. Introduced by the Dilnot Commission in 2011, it is estimated this would cost in the region of £3BN. The other is to make all ‘personal care’ free as in Scotland. The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee favours this and costed it at £7BN last year.

    A third would be to simply abolish the means test altogether (or charge only the ‘hotel costs’ of a residential care placement which was the very limited intention when the means test was introduced by the Attlee Government in 1948). The cost would likely to be somewhere nearer to £15BN.

    There would be some good news for the Treasury from a system driven by social justice. It would surely bring an end to public companies raking in excess profits. Research by the Centre of Public Health Information established that some £1.5BN is leaked out of the residential care market in this way. That amounts to some 10% of the value of the residential care sector.

    The gross spend on social care is currently £20BN. Addressing the means test and paying a fair price for care to ensure care workers are properly remunerated could potentially double that. But doing all of this would be leave the fundamental nature and character of the service unchanged.

    The eligibility needs test

    A founding principle of the NHS was that need will precede resource and that the resource would be publicly funded.  This has arguably been the principle that, whatever its faults, has made the NHS an enduring beacon of social justice.

    However, when it came to the care of older and disabled people this principle was reversed. The priority of the Attlee government was to end the grave injustice of the institutionalisation of older and disabled people in workhouses. Poor Law Boards would be abolished and responsibility transferred to Local Authorities. But when asked in Parliament what Local Authorities would actually do, the Minister for Health replied ‘as much as our resources will allow’.

    Surely unintended, this had two devastating consequences. It implicitly put care of older and disabled people at the back of the queue for public resources, leading it to its Cinderella status. Secondly, it reversed the polarity of needs and resources. Instead of need determining resource, resource would determine need.

    The modern manifestation of the principle is the concept of ‘eligibility criteria’. The justifying theory is that there is a body of ‘needs’ for care and support that can be applied to any and all. Application by all councils of the same ‘eligibility criteria’ will ensure fairness and equity. It’s a theory that has superficial appeal. It is unchallenged. All councils claim to be delivering the National Eligibility Criteria (currently established under the Care Act of 2014).

    It is, however, a myth without mitigation. In a system where need must be determined by resource, it’s the local resources that must be the driver. The ‘eligibility’ decision must be localised to local budgets. National criteria are irrelevant.  They are, indeed, written in a way that makes the key decisions meaningless. This is necessary for local discretion.

    Not only is this localism logically the case, the empirical evidence leaves little room for doubt. Councils report annually on how many people they support and the amount they spend in doing so. Dividing one by the other – which government reports do not do – gives the average spend per person. Once adjusted for regional price differences, this surely gives the best measure of equity. The highest spending councils in 2018/19 spent an average of £22.7K and the lowest £12.9K – an astonishing 70% difference.

    This is no random unevenness that can be explained away as the uniqueness of communities served. There is a clear pattern. Deprivation of communities served is the key factor. The means test results in the most affluent communities serving 50% fewer people per head of population than councils serving the most deprived communities. Councils spending the most can spread the jam much more thickly. The highest spending councils serve communities significantly more affluent than the lowest.

    So to the inequity is added injustice.

    The damage does not end there. The eligibility process works by standardising ‘need’. Standardisation cannot be made to fit with the highly individual nature of the lived experience of need. Needs arise from the complex interplay of a host of factors each of which are themselves highly variable. It has become a modern cliché that each person is ‘expert in their own needs’. The cliché is reduced to lip service when delivered in a system which allows the person to express only ‘wishes’ while the council determines their ‘needs’. It’s infantilising. It is inaccurate as a way to identify need and therefore inefficient.

    Failure in delivery of the principle must not be allowed to dim the importance of the principle that individuals are indeed the best experts in their own needs. Their view of their needs should prevail subject only to their view making best use of resources to enable them to have their best level of wellbeing.

    There will be a dividend for the Treasury.  The greater accuracy of the assessment will mean much greater for value for money from the resource made available. The sector itself believes, although wrongly ascribing blame on poor social work practice, that the current eligibility driven system wastes significant levels of resource through poor use of resources.

    Why does the eligibility needs test persist?

    The needs test has survived since 1948 and defeated countless attempts at transformative change of social care. These include the Community Care reforms of the 1990’s and the more recent personalisation strategy.

    Why is it so enduring? Again, the answer is plain. It serves two political expedients. Firstly it keeps spending to budget, no matter the real need. Secondly, it ensures there is never any record of unmet need. This is important because, in contrast to the NHS where growing waiting lists in the NHS creates political pressure, there is no equivalent in social care. Sir Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary to the Department of Health and Social Care told the Public Accounts Committee, who wanted to know how much funding social care needed, told them that councils had all the money they required to meet their responsibilities under the Care Act. What he didn’t say was that would be true no matter the size of the budget or the level of real need.

    What will it take to abolish the needs test?

    One obvious answer is to guarantee funding will meet all needs to ensure all have the quality of life they can reasonably expect. But the uniqueness of individual needs and the huge variability in the cost of meeting them would mean social care could have to be delivered on an ‘open cheque’ basis. No public service, not even the highly valued NHS, enjoys that. Credibility demands that strategies assume social care will continue to be delivered within a budget not likely to meet all needs. Success is to be measured by the smallness of the gap between needs and resources.

    Can the needs test be abolished in a budgeted system?

    The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. ‘Need’ must be identified in the context of securing the quality of life reasonable for each older and disabled person to expect through. The resources must make the best use of resources but without regard to what happens to be available. The United Nations definition of Independent Living provides a ready made standard of wellbeing to adopt. This would put the UK in the forefront internationally. From that point, decisions must be made as to how many each of those needs the council can afford to meet. Spending will be controlled to budget. However, it no longer be through eligibility of need but by affordability of need.

    The law, through the Care Act, has already made this possible. It provides for ‘need’ to be assessed against 9 dimensions of wellbeing. These dimensions are synonymous with Independent Living. The Act also creates the legal conditions to enable councils to say if they can or cannot afford to meet need. None of these provisions are currently being used. They are being ignored by councils as, under the influence of the Government’s Statutory Guidance to the Act, they are perpetuating a localised eligibility process.

    In February the Labour opposition in Barnet put forward a 4 point plan to replace eligibility of need with affordability of need as the means to control spending. This was to ensure the assessment process was able always to put the person and their welllbeing at the heart of their assessment process and to ensure the Council would be aware of any gap in funding between needs and resources. The Conservative administration rejected the proposal. They believed the Council was already delivering the Care Act and its wellbeing principle, that resources never interfere with the assessment of need, and that choice always determines what people received. The Labour group is currently testing the veracity of those claims.

    Will the needs test be abolished?

    The key issue is political will. The gap between needs and resources will be publicly exposed. What waiting times do for the NHS in creating political pressure, unmet need will do for social care. Political leaders will have to leave behind the comfort the eligibility system has provided them. The greater the funding gap given authenticity through deriving from the aggregated lived experience of need, the greater the political discomfort. But it can be expected the public narrative will shift from what ‘social care’ requires to what older and disabled people require. Few people understand or care about the former, but many are likely to about the latter. Currently councils are seen as visionless machines, employing what Tracey Lazard of Inclusion London (a network of disabled peoples’ organisations) describes as ‘dark arts’ to ensure the system’s delivery under cover of misleading public messages. Councils will be on the side of the older and disabled people they serve, free to promote public understanding of the real needs within their communities.

    Insofar as public sentiment drives political will, social care will stand a much improved chance of securing the funding it truly requires.

    Conclusion

    The needs test, and all its attendant ills, is the unintended legacy of what was otherwise a great reforming Labour government. Although understandable in the context of the 1940’s, rectification is long overdue. There is a clear moral argument that it falls to Labour to ensure it happens.

    2 Comments

    The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has published the findings of a survey into the progress of remediation work to improve fire safety in residential buildings. The survey highlights significant ongoing fire safety issues in multi-occupancy buildings across the country leaving residents with facing bills of thousands of pounds.

    The survey found that:

    • 70% of respondents had different forms of combustible cladding and many had other fire safety issues including missing or inadequate fire breaks (34%), combustible or missing insulation (30%), timber balconies or walkways (14%) and inadequate fire doors (5%).
    • Residents are sceptical about whether the government’s £1bn building safety fund is enough to make homes safe and are already incurring huge costs for measures such as waking watches.
    • Many residents are also angry that it is the government, not building owners, who are footing the bill for remediation work.

    Responding, Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “The government, big business and wealthy building owners have had three years since Grenfell to fix the dangerous homes still trapping thousands of residents. The accounts in this report should make them feel utterly ashamed.

    “Both residents and firefighters have warned the government and building owners countless times that this crisis goes far beyond the ACM cladding that was on Grenfell Tower but, just as with Grenfell residents, they were ignored.

    “The fire safety fund announced in the Budget still abandons thousands of residents trapped in dangerous buildings below 18 metres and in buildings with other fire safety defects. There is also still no clarity on who is responsible for remediation work. This limbo is a perfect excuse for government and those who own the buildings to continue passing the buck between one another whilst failing to address the concerns of residents.

    “£1bn is not enough to address the building safety crisis we are facing. The government needs to urgently conduct an open and accountable national audit of unsafe buildings, properly cost the work and set out ways to recover the cost from building owners.”

    The press release for the HCLG committee survey findings is available here:

    https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/17/housing-communities-and-local-government-committee/news/146327/combustible-cladding-survey-highlights-ongoing-issues-in-residential-buildings/

    The FBU is the trade union representing the overwhelming majority of firefighters in the UK and serves as the professional voice of firefighters and the fire and rescue service. The union is a core participant in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

    The FBU launched its Grenfell: Never Again campaign on the second anniversary of the fire, with five demands: 1) the removal of all flammable cladding; 2) retrofitting sprinklers wherever a risk assessment deems necessary; 3) ensure a strong, democratic voice for tenants; 4) reverse the cuts to firefighter numbers and fire safety officers and; 5) create a new national body to oversee the fire and rescue service. For more information, please see here:

    www.fbu.org.uk/grenfell-never-again

     

    Comments Off on Firefighters slam government and building owners as HCLG committee cladding survey highlights widespread safety failings

    Many migrants, refugees, and people with insecure immigration status in the UK will be particularly at risk during Coronavirus, due to lack of or restricted access to council services, healthcare, and housing.

    JCWI, Migrants Organise, and Medact have put together a short guide for Mutual Aid groups to consider how best to support at risk migrants. Please share this far and wide!

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/11cKMCy08ebN-lJQsP1jvsTcSfwC6YeE8FYrmAZCoZ1w/mobilebasic

     

    Some resources and information from the guide

    Docs Not Cops health rights advice

    • Advice from NHS 111, and treatment in a GP surgery or A&E department, are always free
    • There is no charge for examinations or tests to find out if a person has coronavirus.
    • There is no charge for hospital treatment for confirmed coronavirus

    For more information, contact docsnotcops@gmail.com and jamesskinnner@medact.org. 

    Doctors of the World

    • Free helpline for healthcare advice to people, regardless of immigration status: 0808 1647 686 from 10am to 12 midday, Monday to Friday
    • Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for patients in 45 languages, produced in partnership with the British Red Cross. Download here: https://www.doctorsoftheworld.org.uk/coronavirus-information/#

     

    Changes to asylum and immigration process during COVID-19

    • Check updates here and here
    •  No Recourse to Public Funds Network have up to date information on changes to NRPF rules during COVID-19 here

     

    Comments Off on Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK: Guide for Supporting Migrants During Coronavirus

    Responding to the third tranche of inspections from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Fire and Rescue Services, Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary, said:

    On the national view

    “This tranche of reports are a complete indictment of the government’s dangerous complacency over the risk of fire, flooding, and other hazardous incidents. Austerity has ravaged our fire and rescue service, leaving residents in many areas at risk. In Gloucester, the inspectorate are clear that changes are needed ‘urgently’, but politicians and fire service management elsewhere must not rest on their laurels.

    “With no national standards and no national infrastructure coordinating fire and rescue service policy, residents inevitably face a postcode lottery of fire safety.

    “While fire service bosses must be responsible for any failings, so too should the politicians who have starved them of funding, resources and boots on the ground. Our service is collapsing – it’s plainly unsustainable.”

    On Grenfell

    “The inspectorate’s verdict that London Fire Brigade’s senior management has been slow to learn from the Grenfell Tower tragedy will make worrying reading for firefighters, who have faced unfair criticism while others, including those in government, have no been held to account. It will also be deeply concerning for the Grenfell community and all of London.

    “Grenfell must be a turning point for UK fire safety – anything less is completely unacceptable. The inquiry’s vital recommendations must be implemented quickly in London, but they also must be implemented in every fire and rescue service in the country.”

    On equality and culture

    “It’s shameful that not enough is being done enough to improve equality and diversity in our service. Progress has all but flat-lined under this government – and a severe lack of recruitment and the scrapping of equality targets is largely to blame. We need to recruit more firefighters – and we need to make sure they reflect the communities they serve.

    “We are also deeply concerned about toxic bullying and harassment from management in many fire and rescue services. Firefighters give their all to keep the public safe – it’s disgraceful that certain fire service bosses have thanked them with intimidation. We urge any firefighter affected to contact their FBU representative.”

    Notes:

    The FBU is the trade union representing the overwhelming majority of firefighters in the UK and serves as the professional voice of firefighters and the fire and rescue service. The union is a core participant in the ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

    The FBU’s initial response to the publication of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report is available here: https://www.fbu.org.uk/news/2019/10/30/fbu-response-grenfell-tower-inquiry-phase-1-report

    The FBU launched its Grenfell: Never Again campaign on the second anniversary of the fire, with five demands: 1) the removal of all flammable cladding; 2) retrofitting sprinklers wherever a risk assessment deems necessary; 3) ensure a strong, democratic voice for tenants; 4) reverse the cuts to firefighter numbers and fire safety officers and; 5) create a new national body to oversee the fire and rescue service. For more information, please see here: www.fbu.org.uk/grenfell-never-again

    Comments Off on Fire Brigades Union response to HMICFRS inspections Tranche 3

    A major fire at a Travelodge in Brentford, London, today saw more than 100 firefighters respond.

    Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

    “This fire is yet another sign of this government’s utter failure to get to grips with our fire safety crisis. Two years on from Grenfell, there has still been no comprehensive programme testing building materials.
    “The approach so far has been the agonisingly slow removal of one particular kind of cladding, but that barely scratches the surface.
    “The Tory manifesto made no new policy proposals to tackle the fire safety crisis – just more of the same indifferent inaction. They have slashed the fire and rescue service and could not even bring themselves to mention it in their manifesto. Their record is nothing short of shameful.
    “We need to bring together firefighters, government, tenants, and the fire safety industry to properly implement the Grenfell inquiry recommendations and get to grips with this crisis before we have another tragedy.

    Media contact: Joe Karp-Sawey, FBU communications officer

    joe.karpsawey@fbu.org.uk

    Notes

    The FBU recently called for a forum of all those needed to drive through sweeping changes to UK fire safety, writing to representatives from the government and shadow cabinet, the London Fire Brigade, the National Fire Chiefs Council, the Mayor of London, the Local Government Association, the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, fire safety bodies and the Grenfell community. For more information, please see here: https://www.fbu.org.uk/news/2019/11/25/firefighters-call-forum-implement-grenfell-inquiry-recommendations

    The FBU is the trade union representing the overwhelming majority of firefighters in the UK and serves as the professional voice of firefighters and the fire and rescue service. The union is a core participant in the ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

    The FBU’s initial response to the publication of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase one report is available here: https://www.fbu.org.uk/news/2019/10/30/fbu-response-grenfell-tower-inquiry-phase-1-report

    The FBU launched its Grenfell: Never Again campaign on the second anniversary of the fire, with five demands:

    1) the removal of all flammable cladding;

    2) retrofitting sprinklers wherever a risk assessment deems necessary;

    3) ensure a strong, democratic voice for tenants;

    4) reverse the cuts to firefighter numbers and fire safety officers and;

    5) create a new national body to oversee the fire and rescue service.

     

    For more information, please see here: www.fbu.org.uk/grenfell-never-again

    Comments Off on Brentford Travelodge fire: Fire Brigades Union comment

    Levels of rough sleeping have escalated rapidly in recently years, with reports of deaths on the street now increasingly common. The strong presence of homelessness-related commitments in all of the major UK political parties’ 2017 manifestos is welcome, but does little to dispel intense controversy over how best to intervene in this area.

    At the most basic level, responses to rough sleeping can be distinguished by whether they explicitly seek to alter or ‘control’ the behaviour of homeless people (‘interventionist’ responses) or not (non-interventionist responses). Interventionist responses include the use of ‘force’, such as arresting people for begging, rough sleeping or associated activities, or excluding them from particular areas (using civil orders like ASBOs or Public Space Protection Orders). They also include ‘coercive’ approaches which seek compliance via a ‘threat of deprivation’, for instance, by making access to accommodation conditional on signing up to a support plan. ‘Persuasive’ techniques, such as ‘motivational interviewing’ are core to the more ‘assertive’ forms of street outreach now used in many major cities.

    These interventionist approaches, and particularly ‘harder’ measures that employ force or coercion, are extremely controversial, often described as punitive or even as criminalisation. Some argue, however, that it is the non-interventionist stance of some soup kitchens, day centres, and traditional night shelters, generally run by faith-based organisations, that should be subject to moral censure, and that the ‘non-judgemental sanctuary’  that they offer can sustain damaging, even  life-threatening, patterns of behaviour among a highly vulnerable group of people.

    These polarised and emotive debates pose a challenge to policy-makers and service providers, and risk obscuring the need for cool-headed reflection in determining the most ethical approach. In a recent paper, Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Sarah Johnsen and I propose a four-point framework (inspired by Ruth Grant, a political philosopher at Duke University) to cut through this contested moral territory.

    First, does the intervention in question have a legitimate purpose? The idea that enforcement-based responses are pursued in defence of the aesthetic concerns and financial interests of wealthy gentrifiers has fuelled a great deal of the controversy that surrounds them. But in the UK at least, their adoption has also often been shown to be driven by the understandable concerns of ordinary local residents about health hazards like discarded needles or human waste in public spaces. The wellbeing of the homeless people targeted has also informed the Rough Sleepers Initiative of the 1990s as well as the more recent ‘No Second Night Out’ programme. Thus, despite widespread media hype, it is not the case that interventionist approaches necessarily reflect punitive intent on the part of politicians and policy-makers.

    Second, does the intervention allow for a voluntary response on the part of those targeted, therefore respecting their autonomy and capacity for self-determination? Here, non-interventionist approaches may seem at first glance to have the ethical advantage over more controlling interventions. However, the waters are substantially muddied by clear evidence of the highly constrained capacity of some individuals sleeping rough, especially those suffering from severe addiction and/or mental ill health, to act autonomously – that is, in pursuit of their own settled and authentic preferences. In such circumstances, a refusal to countenance ‘paternalistic’ interventions which seek to safeguard, restore or establish some basic level of personal autonomy for a vulnerable adult appears to us (as to James Gregory in his paper Engineering Compassion) “more like a moral abnegation… than respectful distance”.

    Third, what are the impacts of the intervention on the ‘character’ of those involved? There have been concerns, for instance, that commissioning practices that require faith-based organisations to engage in interventionist practices undermine their ethos of providing sanctuary and care unconditionally. Similar, homelessness organisations working with the police or UK Border Agency have been heavily criticised for ‘selling out’ and abandoning their core values. But we would argue that the material impact of homelessness interventions on their intended ‘beneficiaries’ should be given a much higher moral weighting than their impact on the character of the ‘benefactor’. An undue emphasis on the latter could be considered ethically dubious, even rather self-indulgent.

    This takes us to our fourth, and most important, moral consideration: what are the actual outcomes of the intervention in question? In particular, is it effective in improving the wellbeing of rough sleepers and, crucially, is it more effective than alternative (less controlling) methods? For example, while there is evidence that ASBOs have led to positive benefits for some street homeless people, acting as a ‘crisis point’ prompting engagement with support services, the use of such strong enforcement measure can only be justified as proportional when used as a last resort. The full range of consequences of any intervention must also be considered, including unintended negative effects. This would include, for example, displacing rough sleepers into more dangerous or isolated areas of the city.

    Equally, though, a key implication of this analysis is that the ‘tolerant’ approach taken by many soup runs, day centres and shelters ought to be subject to the same level of ethical scrutiny as interventionist responses. They should not be assumed to be morally unproblematic simply because terms like ‘unconditional acceptance’ sound innocuous. At a minimum, the possibility that tolerant approaches may inadvertently act to erode vulnerable people’s longer-term autonomy by sustaining them in street-based lifestyles must be taken seriously.

    These four criteria are offered as a route through what continues to be an extremely polarised debate on how to best respond to escalating levels of rough sleeping. A priori arguments, emotional intuitions, the (good) intentions of staff and volunteers, or even the views of current users of a service, do not suffice to settle these controversies. Instead, we should pursue responses that have the most significant and lasting positive impacts on those at risk on the streets.

    This was first published on the  British Politics and Policy blog

    Tagged | Comments Off on How can we ethically respond to rough sleeping? A four-point framework

    Friday sees a Homelessness Reduction Bill before Parliament, sponsored by the MP Bob Blackman. It has the support of the Commons Select Committee and it expands the duties of local government and the categories of people eligible, calling for earlier interventions to prevent homelessness. What implications does this have for the difficult cases of complete homelessness and health?

    Health breakdown is a consistent cause of homelessness and, when it affects the main income earner, it can take a whole family into homelessness. We know about the economic signals (unemployment or benefit cuts) and legal signals ( eviction or end of tenancy) leading to homelessness but what of the mental health, addiction, chronic conditions or multiple health needs of people which make it difficult or impossible for them to go back to the home they had, or has already made them homeless? Will health professionals be able to give 56 days’ notice that they believe an individual or family to be at risk?

    How far will the proposed duty for local authorities to intervene go? And with health care being devolved to the new combined authority in Manchester with an elected Mayor, could this open up the possibility of integrated working with the homeless with severe health problems that has eluded previous reforms?

    A useful summary has been provided by the Department of Communities and Local Government – always a good sign that the government might be behind this reform.

    The Bill raises some interesting challenges. It puts a new duty on all public authorities, which clearly includes hospitals, to engage the local authority or housing authority if they anticipate homelessness at the end of a period of treatment, which most will already do. But it also opens questions about “unreasonable behaviour” and “refusal to co-operate” with new plans which can exclude people from help. A particular challenge with some of the most difficult patients with mental illness or addiction and behaviour problems. And, in any case, it is still a battle to be designated “ a priority” if you are single , not pregnant, or without a clear disability.

    By the time the bill reaches its critical stages many of these issues will be centre stage at the 2017 Homeless Health Inclusion programme from the charity Pathway and the UCL institute. Now in its 5th year, this specialist conference has the added unique element that all the sessions are filmed or recorded for training and staff briefing and induction, making it one of the most valuable packages for professionals looking for solutions to tackle homelessness and the health issues that dominate these clients.

    Will 2017 see a combination of new legislation, devolution and integration of local services and innovative pathways to tackle some of the most complex homeless and health issues which too often present in the same individuals? Perhaps a an early new year resolution is to make sure it does.

    Tagged | Comments Off on Homelessness Reduction Bill – the health issues

    We are becoming known as ‘generation rent’ and so, it is safe to say, getting on the property ladder isn’t easy. Therefore, when we finally do, we expect we will move on when we are ready, perhaps to upsize or change locations – house repossession is the last thing on our mind. That is until the day we find ourselves in debt – debt that spirals out of control so quickly that suddenly losing our home becomes a very, very real possibility.

    House repossession comes about because you are in debt and debt doesn’t happen overnight. It will have been building up over time – meaning putting food on the table and paying bills has been an ongoing issue that has been causing you a significant amount of stress and worry before the repossession of your house even happens. But, having your home taken off you is the nail in the coffin – and one that comes with a whole new level of stress and worry. Is it any wonder that debt and house repossession are linked to mental health? Does it really come as a surprise to hear that people slip into depression when they are sinking further and further into debt, so much so that they could be out on the streets and they can’t see a way out of it.

    A review by the British Medical Journal has uncovered a link between the 2008 recession (which followed the financial crisis) and mental health. This recession led to a rise in unemployment, homelessness and poverty – all important detriments of health.

    An increase in house repossession from 2005, rising unemployment from 2008 and falling wages from 2009 as well as an average increase in household debt were all cited as causes behind a spike in ‘adverse health outcomes.’

    However, there is good news and perhaps at least a dim light at the end of the tunnel because house repossession has actually been at an all time low. In fact, in 2014 the number of homes repossessed by lenders fell to their lowest levels since 2006. The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) says repossession fell by 26% to 21,000 with mortgage arrears also falling to an eight-year low. The improvement has been put down to the rising levels of employment and continuing low interest rates.

    HML, a mortgage servicing firm, has predicted that 10,326 repossessions will take place this year. While these figures are promising no one should be lulled into a false sense of security, believing that the low interest rates we are currently experiencing will last forever.

    Plus, there is, of course, still a chance this could happen to you and there is no comfort in the fact these numbers are lower if you are one of the many still facing repossessions.

    But, you do have options… and there are things you can do to avoid it or, at the very least, postpone it. Start by talking to someone and getting advice on your specific situation from the experts, which could even result in you selling your home quickly to stop house repossession from happening to you and freeing up some money to help you get you back on your feet.

    Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

    North West Leicestershire is about to publish its Local Plan. An inch thick, this pedestrian document tells us that this Council will co-ordinate a wide range of other organisations to ensure infrastructure is provided at the right time and in the right place to absorb the impact of new housing developments and provide for the health needs of people moving into the area.

    The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

    At a recent Policy Development Group, a cross-party committee of elected Members pursued the fate of £1.3M of developer contributions for health that remained unspent, some of it at risk of being paid back.

    Lacking a root cause analysis local GPs, NHS England and Council planners were involved in a blame game. The tangle of red tape, risked developers laughing at the public sector as they re-pocket money returned with interest.

    Teasing this mess apart has allowed some funds to escape the log-jam and NHS England we are now spending some s106 money on Long Lane Surgery in Coalville and on a surgery in Measham. But I am not taken in by this snippet of good news. Nor do I trust in future solutions such as moving to a Community Infrastructure Levy. My GP informants still describe a legal system that makes easing this money out of the bureaucracy so difficult that most clinicians give up.

    Remaining focused on funding GP premises, when so much else is pushing healthcare into the abyss, is almost certainly not enough. A Local Plan with vision would look beyond the immediate needs of service providers, such as GPs to the wider determinants of public health.

    Loneliness is a killer. Thanks to the developer-centric demands of the National Planning Policy Framework, the Council’s plans for cultural facilities in Policy IF2 grudgingly allow their expansion if the community can prove an increase in demand.

    After the closure of the iconic Snibston Discovery Museum perhaps I should not complain that the Plan appears to major instead on preventing existing community buildings from being demolished.

    My colleagues in public health should be pleased to see that the Plan does have a detailed section on transport infrastructure. The Royal College of Physicians reports that there are 40000 deaths a year due to poor air quality mostly from exacerbations of asthma and COPD. We know that we have road junctions that repeatedly breach air quality guidelines including the Copt Oak and Broom Leys junctions.

    According to the RAC North West Leicestershire along with neighbours South Derbyshire are in the top 10 Districts where working people are obliged to use their private car to go to work.

    It is axiomatic that wealthier communities are healthier communities. Ensuring people in North West Leicestershire can access properly paid employment has to be a key public health strategy.

    In supporting this Plan going forward for consultation, I am therefore particularly pleased to support Policy IF5 in which North West Leicestershire, in direct contrast to the County Council, commits itself to supporting the provision of public transport on the Leicester to Burton line.

    Providing East-West connectivity and putting the former mining town Coalville of back on the railway map, as HS2 looks increasingly unaffordable, it would be good to get national support for this important public health intervention.

    Tagged | 1 Comment

    What the London mayoral candidates have to say about housing policy:

    CandidateZac GoldsmithSian BerrySadiq KhanCaroline PidgeonPeter Whittle
    Total annual housebuilding target50,000 a year by 2020200,000 over a 4 year term50,000150,000 private units over 4 year term
    Affordable housing target64,000 social and low cost rent, 400,000 low cost ownership• At least half of all new housing to be affordable
    • Housing Associations to deliver 180,000 new homes over 10 years
    50,000 council homes over 4 year term
    Planning• Expert ‘flying planners’ team to support LA planning departments
    • Standard viability assessments for affordable homes in developments
    • Chief Architect for London
    • London Plan to set aside more homes for Londoners on average salaries
    • Reintroduce 50% affordable housing target for individual developments, require transparency on viability assessments
    • Protect Zero Carbon definition
    • Offer communities a Right to Regenerate – becoming partners in the planning
    of opportunity areas and housing zones
    • Develop planning rules to tackle ‘buy-to-leave’
    • Improve planning and design to offer older Londoners more choice of suitable housing
    • Greater transparency on viability assessments for affordable homes in developments
    • Use powers more effectively to encourage home building, including benchmark that half of housing in new developments should be affordable for majority
    of Londoners
    Large development consents to be decided by local referendums
    Development • Guarantee homes built on Mayoral land are only for Londoners – Homes built on TfL land reserved for those living in London for at least 3 years
    • ‘London share’ retained in public sector land sold for development
    • Company with a £0.5bln fund from council tax
    to support smaller and community builders
    • Free home insulation for homeowners
    • Break up bigger development sites up into smaller plots
    • Setting up ‘Homes for Londoners’ and building alliance of all with a stake in housebuilding
    • Affordable homes to include social rent, new London Living Rent and part-buy- part-rent
    • Attract institutional investors to finance homes for
    long-term, secure rent
    • City-hall owned developer to delivery 50,000 affordable homes
    • Continue to levy Olympic Precept – leading to accessing finance of up to
    £2 billion to build housing*
    • Register of London’s brownfield sites
    • Prioritise Londoners when developing on GLA land
    Buyers • Londoners given first refusal on new-build homes built on TfL land
    • ‘Mayor’s mortgage’ for
    new-build property, 9 month agreement in principle window (instead of 6 months)
    • Phase out shared ownership and replace with models such as mutual home ownership which will remain affordable in the longer term
    • Campaign to reform leasehold law
    • Londoners given ‘first dibs’ on all homes built on Mayoral land
    • Seek to extend ‘first dibs’ to homes built on public land and to a proportion of homes built in all developments across
    the Capital
    Private Rented Sector• Three-year tenancies offered as standard
    • Target high fees charged by estate agents to tenants
    • Campaign for employers to offer ‘deposit loans’ for rental deposits to workers
    • Create a ‘union for renters’
    – which would be an advice and lobbying group
    • Set up a register for landlords, which would allow tenants to rate and compare landlords
    • Rogue landlords named and shamed in public database
    • Set up not-for-profit lettings agency
    • Increase renters’ rights on tenancy lengths and rents
    • Promote landlord licensing and make the case for a London-wide scheme
    • Promote 3-5 year tenancies
    • All landlords to be registered
    • Scrap agents’ lettings fees for tenants
    Higher taxes for buy-to-let investors who leave property empty
    Right to buy (Right to Buy comes under Central Government remit)Encouraging 2 for 1 replacement of properties sold• Lobby for end of Right to Buy
    • Work with Councils and Housing Associations to mitigate impact of Housing and Planning Bill
    Right-to-buy should come with a guarantee that a like- for-like replacement home for social rent will be built in local area• Scrap RtB for Social Tenants
    • Introduce RtB for private tenants when landlords sell property
    * Green beltProtect the GreenbeltProtect the GreenbeltProtect the GreenbeltProtect the GreenbeltProtect the Greenbelt
    Estate regenerationRegeneration to replace run-down estates with
    mansion blocks and terraces
    – where a majority of local residents in favour
    • No complete demolition unless absolutely necessary
    • Regeneration to be led by residents who have right to independent ballot and support from Community Homes Unit
    • Regeneration only with full resident support, demolition only where other options have been exhausted
    • In-fill to boost housing numbers
    HomelessnessExpand ‘No First Night Out’ which helps identify those at risk of homelessnessExpanding ‘No First Night Out’ scheme, with plans to end rough sleepingSet up ‘No Nights Sleeping Rough’ taskforce to oversee funding and implementation of Mayor’s priorities in this areaExpanding ‘No first night out’ schemeSet up a homelessness register at City Hall
    Do you support:
    Crossrail 2 YesYesYesYesNo
    Bakerloo extension YesYesYesYes-
    HS2 YesNoYesYes (but ensure impact on London is minimised)No
    Heathrow extension
    No
    No (and close London City Airport)NoNoNo
    EU membershipLeaveRemainRemainRemainLeave
    Tagged | Comments Off on Housing in London

    Yesterday the Government announced a temporary halt to changes on the Local Housing Allowance for supported housing. Yet fundamental problems remains – let me explain why.

    Currently the Local Housing Allowance limits housing benefit for private rented tenancies at 30% of the local market rent. The Government is proposing to extend this to social housing from April 2018 for all new tenancies signed from April 2016. In addition Local Housing Allowance rates will be frozen from 2016 to 2020 irrespective of any market changes. The impact will be to reduce benefit payments for new social housing tenants and income for Housing Associations.

    However there is a profound knock on for supported, sheltered and extra care housing. Costs in such housing are higher due to increased build, management and maintenance costs. There have already been substantial reductions in future income due to the 1% rent cut for the next four years and cuts in Supporting People funding.

    There are two related impacts. The PlaceShapers Group estimate that the Local Housing Allowance changes will leave a £400 million gap for existing providers. Combined with other changes this may make supported housing unviable resulting in providers withdrawing from the market.

    Secondly faced with uncertain and unviable income streams providers will decide to place on hold or cancel projects for vulnerable people. There is already evidence that this is happening.

    In both cases valuable support for vulnerable people is at risk of being withdrawn with consequences both for their well-being and the impact on other services as that support is withdrawn.

    The National Housing Federation has been campaigning against this change with some degree of success. There have already been concessions from the Government with the extension of Discretionary Housing Payment (already under pressure from the Bedroom Tax) to cover shortfall. They also agreed to hold a strategic review into specialist provision due to report this month. Yesterday’s announcement goes further in delaying the start date for a year whilst that review is taking place (although implementation date remains the same).

    Although welcome this means that Housing Associations considering new build supported housing will still be faced with uncertainty about future income and with that uncertainty will be reluctant or unwilling to take such risk.

    Hopefully this uncertainty will be ended soon with an agreement on future funding that will enable existing and proposed supported housing to prosper. Otherwise the future of supported housing looks bleak.

    Tagged | Comments Off on Local Housing Allowance and supported housing