Everybody out? – Who’s vulnerable now?
Did you know that under English homeless laws if you are an ‘ordinary person’ (a legal definition), lose your home through no fault of your own and become street homeless, the council have no duty to provide you with shelter?
It’s different in Scotland – they changed the law to protect ‘ordinary’ people in 2012.
It’s different in Wales – they changed the guidance to extend accommodation duties to ‘ordinary people’ if rough sleeping.
But in England – we’ve chosen to keep to our tradition of denying a right to accommodation to ‘ordinary’ single homeless people. We’ve decided that the ‘ordinary’, usual indignity, degradation increased risk of harm and death associated with rough sleeping isn’t enough to justify placing an accommodation duty on the state.
The fact and scale of rough sleeping in this country, isn’t an accident. It’s a choice we’ve made.
On 24 March this year, the government told council’s to make a different choice. The Minister for Housing wrote a letter instructing them that as a result of COVID-19 they must bring “everybody in” and promised additional money to help pay for extra beds. As a result, not everybody, but an additional 15,000 people nationally, and 1573 in Greater Manchester were brought inside.
But this was just temporary. The money and the extra beds it bought have ran out and now we’re seeing a return to business as usual.
For GMLC that means battling everyday with councils trying to get them to accept that a client is more vulnerable than the ‘ordinary’ – arguing that while sleeping on a dark pavement, alone is deemed perfectly acceptable for an ‘ordinary person’, it is not for this specific person because they are old, sick, disabled, a victim of trafficking or domestic violence, suffering PTSD or suicidal etc.
Statutory and voluntary health and homelessness resources are wasted every day requiring doctors to write letters and fighting about how vulnerable someone has to be for the council to have a duty to act. Resources that could be better spent on accommodation and support.
And it’s a false premise – every person who is rough sleeping or does not have accommodation where they can keep themselves or others safe is vulnerable.
Change is easy to achieve: remove the priority need criteria and extend an accommodation duty to all homeless people who need it.
If the choice is hard to do this is a hard one, then we need to be honest about what those in power are saying – ‘ordinary’ people sleeping on the streets is acceptable in England, at this time and even during a global health pandemic.
Congratulations to the Scots and the Welsh for taking a different view.
GMLC are working to ensure we are not far behind. Join us in calling for change – email your MP today asking them to remove the priority need criteria for homelessness applications.