Citizens panel – Introductory background brief

Homelessness in England is governed legally by the Housing Act. This says who local authorities have to house and who they don’t.

Nearly everyone who becomes homeless reports themselves to a local authority in the hope that they can get assistance. However, every local authority – including Cornwall Council – first assesses them to establish whether they have a ‘priority need’ under the Housing Act. If they do, then the Council has a duty to house them.

For example, a ‘priority need’ is likely to be families with children, someone with a disability, or someone under 18 years of age.

In Cornwall, during the period January-March 2019, there were 709 households assessed as homeless to whom a duty of care was owed. 

475 households were threatened with homelessness and 234 were owed a duty of relief.  (Relief duties are owed to households that are already homeless and require help to secure settled accommodation.)

Each household may have more than one person and about half of these households were with children.

In Cornwall, just over one in five homeless households were in work[1].

The actual figure 23 percent.

Of the 709 households 70 were in full time work and 92 in part time work. Figures refer to the main applicant.

For the South West the figure was one in four households.  This clearly indicates that being in work offers no protection against the threat of homelessness[2]. It also indicates the problematic nature of part-time seasonal work in Cornwall and the limited incomes such work offers.

If there is no ‘priority need’ for which a duty is owed, that person can end up on the street.

Those that end up on the street are  what most people understand as homelessness – the visible homeless on our streets.

[1] Statutory homelessness Live Tables https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-homelessness#statutory-homelessness-live-tables

In 2018, an estimated 53 people were sleeping rough in Cornwall on a typical night.

This estimate is based on the annual ‘rough sleeping count’ on a given night in November and it also includes those who were not counted that night but who are obviously homeless because they attend the homeless day centre and are known to the homeless outreach workers.  The rough sleeping estimate is down significantly from the 99 rough sleepers in 2016.

 

However, the ‘rough sleeping estimate’ is part of a larger figure of street homelessness which is hidden   

This is because people alternate between sleeping on the street and sleeping on someone’s sofa or squatting in an empty building.  One estimate says 132 people slept rough in Penzance for the year 2017/8, but not all at the same time.

One common misconception is that if there are only 53 rough sleepers, then all you need to do is to re-house 53 people. But in fact, that figure is only a snapshot in time because there is a constant stream of people being made homeless and a constant stream of people being re-housed. For example, In that same year St Petrocs rehoused 417 people!

Causes of homelessness

The biggest cause of homelessness in Cornwall is eviction from private rented property – what is called Section 21

709 households were assessed as homeless and owed a duty of care in the period Jan-Mar 2019

causesHomelessness

 

However, caution is needed in making assumptions that it is bad landlords who are driving homelessness. The picture is much more complex and includes issues to do with complaints by neighbours about anti-social behaviour, mental health issues, rent arrears, drug and alcohol issues, as well as relationship issues.

No-one disputes that there are irresponsible landlords in Cornwall but eviction from a property may be related to issues that are beyond the landlords control. Vulnerable tenants may have unmet personal needs. As one homeless outreach officer asked “What support is a tenant getting in order to address debt issues, addiction issues, the loss of the job and more?” Had they had sufficient advice and support, they might have avoided homelessness.

Personal viewpoint by Dave Brown, St Petrocs

Homelessness affects all sections of society. In my time working at St Petrocs I have helped professors, bank managers, head teachers, emergency service workers and IT consultants.

The list goes on, but the one thing they had in common was that they had been forced to sleep rough. What is apparent though, is that people with trauma in their childhood histories are far more likely to become homeless and/or develop many of the so-called “complex needs” associated with homelessness, such as mental health issues, addiction to alcohol or drugs or problematic behaviour. People with a multitude of issues are incredibly vulnerable, but they can also have a negative impact on their friends and relations, and on the wider community.

If they become entrenched in sleeping rough, costs to the NHS, council services and policing can mount up, and the human cost is a shortened life, destined to be dominated by emotional upset. Cornwall Council’s document, One Vision, states that there are currently 8,000 children living in homes in Cornwall where domestic violence is taking place. Are these Cornwall’s entrenched homeless adults of the future?

A relationship breakdown of some sort is the main trigger for homelessness in our clients at St Petrocs. We assist those who do not have a priority need duty owed to them, where-as the pie chart above reflects local authority statistics, which include families and those who have a priority need duty for the authority to accommodate them. The most common stories are of a relationship which has broken down between husband and wife, or a parent or stepparent and their grown-up children.

“Section 21” evictions from a private rental tenancy are too high, and there need to be measures to prevent some of these evictions. Help and support for people struggling in tenancies needs to be more comprehensive and needs to go in earlier. We must be careful however, not to demonise landlords. There are, for instance, a large number of “accidental landlords”, people who have inherited a house and cannot sell it, or people forced to rent out their home when they are working abroad for a period of time. They will need to take possession of their property again at some point and that means the tenant will have to leave. The way that process works though, needs considering, so that people have the best chance of securing another tenancy as close to their employment, support networks, schools and colleges as the old tenancy.

The government and local authorities are keen to address the immediate and direct causes of homelessness under the banner of prevention. Employment, benefits, low pay, poverty, the law around tenancies, supporting tenants, better mental health services, better addiction services to name just a few areas are a good place to start. We should also be looking into the long-term future, and thinking about those 8,000 Cornish children who, as adults will be more vulnerable to homelessness than anyone else.

Annex A The Living Wage in Cornwall

The Real Living Wage according to the Living Wage Foundation

This is as follows

  • The London Living Wage is currently £10.55 per hour. This covers all boroughs in Greater London.
  • The UK Living Wage for outside of London is currently £9.00 per hour.

The rates are calculated annually by the Resolution Foundation and overseen by the Living Wage Commission, based on the best available evidence about living standards in London and the UK[1].

[1] See the Living Wage Foundation website https://www.livingwage.org.uk/calculation

The Real Living Wage is a voluntary higher rate of base pay. It provides a benchmark for responsible employers who choose to pay their employees a rate that meets the basic cost of living in the UK and London. It is higher than the government’s national minimum wage rates, including the minimum wage rate for over-25s (the ‘national living wage’) because it is calculated according to the actual cost of living.

The Living Wage Foundation is the organisation at the heart of the Living Wage movement. They recognise and celebrate businesses who pay all their staff (including third party staff) the real Living Wage, by awarding the Living Wage Employer Mark.

The government Living Wage

The government disagrees with the calculation of the Living Wage as set out by the Living Wage Foundation. It has come up with its own so-called ‘national living wage’ as well as a minimum wage, both of which are lower than the real Living Wage[1].

You need to be aged 25 to get the government national living wage rate while the minimum wage applies to workers aged 24 and under[2].

[1] See the Living Wage Foundation website https://www.livingwage.org.uk/what-real-living-wage

[2] The government national minimum wage and living wage see https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates

Year 25 and over 21 to 24 18 to 20 Under 18 Apprentice
April 2019 £8.21 £7.70 £6.15 £4.35 £3.90

The Real Living Wage in Cornwall

In Cornwall there are 38 accredited Living Wage Employers, who pay the real Living Wage to all of their staff, including their third party staff. There are a further 82 branches of accredited organisations who pay the real Living Wage across Cornwall, including branches of well-known high street banks such as Lloyds, Barclays and Nationwide. You can take a look on the Living Wage website here

However, there are some surprises: for example, all Oxfam bookshops pay the Living Wage of £9 per hour. So does Pentreath, a mental health charity, Carol Spinks Homecare based in Saltash, and Wadebridge Food Bank also pay the Living Wage. These are unlikely champions of the living wage given that the care sector is notoriously low paid and charities struggle in a harsh funding environment. If they can pay their staff a Living Wage, it begs the question ‘why not others’?

Cornwall Council is a Living Wage Employer and as part of this, requires its related businesses and suppliers to adopt the Living Wage according to an agreed timetable with the Living Wage Foundation. St Stephen-in-Brannel Parish council and Saltash Town Council are also Living Wage Employers – the only two councils that appear to be so.

Who is missing? The big supermarkets and the hotel and hospitality sector

The larger more profitable supermarkets who are best able to pay the Living Wage are absent. This includes Tesco, Marks and Spencer, the Co-op, Sainsburys have not signed up to this.

The hospitality sector is the other big sector in Cornwall given that this is a popular holiday destination. Visit Cornwall is a key organisation that promotes Cornwall as a holiday destination. It is an accredited Living Wage Employer, but of the 1,300 Four Star and Five star hotels and Inns[1] , only one was listed as a Living Wage employer. The vast majority of 4 to 5 star hotels and inns charge well over   £100 a night in high season (and many over £200) – well able to pay their cleaners, bar staff and chamber maids a Living Wage of £9 if they choose to.

What’s in it for the employer?

Many businesses in Cornwall, particularly the self-employed, struggle to pay themselves a living wage, let alone any staff they employ. However, the focus here is on the larger, more prosperous businesses.

Research conducted by Living Wage Foundation has revealed a number of key advantages to businesses who choose to accredit with them. In answer to the question ‘What has paying the Living Wage done for your businesses?’ they found the following[2] :

  • 86% say it has improved the reputation of the business
  • 75% say it has increased motivation and retention rates for employers
  • 64% say it has helped differentiate themselves from others in the industry
  • 58% say it has improved relationships between managers and their staff

[1] See Booking.com and Trivago websites to get an idea of figures

[2] See the Living Wage website https://www.livingwage.org.uk/good-for-business

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