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'Everyone In' for good


04 January 2021

In March this year, local authorities received an unusual but welcome email from central government. The email announced the ‘Everyone In’ approach to rough sleeping, urging us to move all rough sleepers in the borough into self-contained accommodation to keep them save from COVID. Since then, Southwark has provided shelter for 800 rough sleepers, 712 of whom have now moved on to long-term accommodation thanks to the tireless work of our brilliant staff.

Fast forward 9 months and I’ve found myself adding my name to a letter urging the government to rethink changes to the Immigration Rules which will make rough sleeping grounds for deportation – a policy which threatens the very people who we were rightly encouraged to re-house and support. This cruel and callous new policy has been rushed in with zero scrutiny, and is being condemned across the sector as a move which could force people into exploitative and dangerous situations as they avoid seeking support.

We had an inkling of this approach earlier in the year, when the government appeared to back-track on ‘Everyone In’ in respect of those who have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), and are unable to access normal welfare benefits. Southwark’s interpretation was that ‘Everyone’ really did mean ‘Everyone’ regardless of immigration status, and our public health approach led to us supporting a considerable number of homeless individuals with NRPF, including 72 who remain in emergency accommodation -- without Home Office resolution on their cases or able to find employment. Suspending the NRPF rules in response to the pandemic would have been both the simplest and morally right thing to do, but this decision was side-stepped.

As we now enter the cold winter months, ‘Everyone In 2’ has been notably absent from government plans, despite the twin challenges of COVID and extreme weather. Subsequently Southwark has developed its own Winter Rough Sleeping Action Plan to support those sleeping rough, with COVID-safe self-contained accommodation. This includes: 

  • a new partnership with the charity robes to provide 35 hotel rooms plus accompanying support packages, including 15 rooms for those with NRPF;

  • additional hotel rooms to provide shelter for all rough sleepers in extreme weather;

  • and a partnership with Southwark law centre to resolve the immigration cases of those with NRPF still in emergency accommodation.

Alongside this we are doubling down on our efforts to proactively stop residents from becoming homeless in the first place, and this will be the real challenge going into next year. Our homelessness service has already seen cases rising from illegal evictions, and there has been an overall increase of 51% in homelessness applications since April, compared with the same time last year.

For all of the government’s talk about tackling homelessness and ending rough sleeping, there seems to be no plan to bring this about. In fact, current government policy will do just the opposite. Lifting the evictions ban, coupled with a freeze in the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and a refusal to keep the Universal Credit uplift, can only fuel more evictions and thus more homelessness.

In Southwark the difference between the LHA and average median rents is stark – a gap of £200 a month for 1-bedroom properties, £300 a month for 2-bedroom properties and so on. If you’re a family with children and subject to the benefit cap, you will be pushed out of London. And if you have no recourse to public funds and lose your job, then there seems to be an expectation built into government policy of destitution and deportation.

All of this means that funding, whilst welcome, is not going to eliminate rough sleeping. Instead we need a whole system change, a change which at the moment is not forthcoming. As a local authority we will play our part too, and in particular we will do all that we can to prevent homelessness from failures in the private rented sector. We’ve recently teamed up with voluntary sector partners on a project to support vulnerable tenants, and we are planning to bring forward a new PRS licensing scheme in the New Year, alongside a proposal to develop a Private Renters’ Union. But this does feel like fire-fighting. The government does have the tools to end rough sleeping, and it’s been done before under a Labour administration. By providing adequate welfare support for all, homes for social rent, and greater security for private sector tenants, this ambition would still be within reach.

 

  

Cllr Helen Dennis – Cabinet Member for Social Support and Homelessness, Southwark Council




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