Thursday, 19 April 2018

Homelessness and Denial

As all probation staff know, provision of safe, affordable accommodation is an essential element of trying to stay offence-free and effective resettlement or rehabilitation following release from prison. It's been some time since we covered issues connected to homelessness, and the situation is alarming. This from the Guardian:-

Deaths of UK homeless people more than double in five years
The number of homeless people recorded dying on streets or in temporary accommodation has more than doubled over the last five years in the UK, the Guardian can reveal. With people found dead in supermarket car parks, church graveyards and crowded hostels, the number of deaths has risen year on year, from 31 in 2013 to 70 in 2017. At least 230 people have died over that period.

The figures compiled by the Guardian, which include an average of more than one death a week in 2017, are likely to be a substantial underestimate, as no part of the UK government records homeless death statistics at a national level, and local authorities are not required to count rough sleeper deaths.

According to the Guardian’s figures, the average age of a rough sleeper at death was 43, nearly half the UK life expectancy. Around 90% of those who died in the last five years were men, when the gender was provided. Experts have put the rise down to a rapidly increasing homeless population, rising rents, welfare cuts and lack of social housing, and have called for the government to take urgent action to address the root causes of poverty.

The sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow brought by Siberian air early in 2018 signalled a continuation of a deadly 2017, with at least 23 homeless deaths on the streets and in temporary accommodation reported by local media so far this year. In February the death of Marcos Amaral Gourgel drew widespread media attention after he died in freezing weather at Westminster underground station next to the Houses of Parliament.

“These figures are a devastating reminder that rough sleeping is beyond dangerous – it’s deadly, and it’s claiming more and more lives each year,” said Matthew Downie, of the homeless charity Crisis. He added: “Those sleeping on our streets are exposed to everything from sub-zero temperatures to violence and abuse, and fatal illnesses. They are 17 times more likely to be a victim of violence, twice as likely to die from infections, and nine times more likely to commit suicide. What’s worse, we know these figures are likely to be an underestimate.”

The investigation, which provides the most comprehensive record of homeless deaths in the UK to date, has prompted leading homeless charities to call for more robust statistics on mortality rates, and an extension of the review system used by local government and emergency services to investigate the deaths of vulnerable adults. Currently, homeless deaths are only investigated if there is concern that state agencies could have done more to prevent a death.

The Guardian asked all local authorities in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England how many verified rough sleepers have died in the council’s territory in the last five calendar years, asking for details on age, gender, location and access to homelessness services for each death through a freedom of information act request.

A verified rough sleeper is a homeless person who has been seen rough sleeping by an outreach worker, as described by the homelessness charity St Mungo’s. The request also asked councils to include deaths of verified rough sleepers in temporary accommodation, local authority run and commissioned B&Bs and support housing.

Several councils with large homeless populations where deaths have been reported in local media, including Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, Belfast, Leeds and Southend, either did not respond to the Guardian’s FOI request by the required deadline, or do not record the information.

The Guardian excluded 63 deaths reported by local authorities from the total statistics because they either did not meet the FOI definition, even though they might reasonably meet the public’s understanding of a homeless death, or because the information was not provided by local authorities in an interpretable format.

Greater London is the only part of the UK which records detailed information on its street population through the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain), run by St Mungo’s . According to the figures, rough sleeping deaths peaked at 23 in 2014, and reached 21 in 2016, but fell to 16 last year.

Rough sleeping in England has increased for the seventh consecutive year, official figures have show, with at least 4,751 people sleeping rough every night, although the actual figure is widely believed to be much higher. Petra Salva, the director of rough sleeper services at St Mungo’s, called on the government to mandate safeguarding adult board reviews into every suspected rough sleeper death to establish more robust statistics. “Investigating deaths will help identify issues around care and where more help is needed to move people off the street and out of danger,” she said.

On Tuesday, the Homelessness Reduction Act came into force, which imposes new legal duties on English councils to prevent and relieve homelessness. While the new laws have been welcomed by campaigners, charities have said the act fails to address the root causes of poverty.

Polly Neate, the CEO of Shelter, said it would be dangerous for the government to see the law change as “job done”, and described the data as a “stain on our national conscience.”

After the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government were sent the figures by the Guardian, a government spokesperson said: “Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is one too many. We are taking bold action and have committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it altogether by 2027. We are investing £1.2bn to tackle all forms of homelessness and earlier this week the Homelessness Reduction Act, the most ambitious legislation in this area in decades, came into force.”

The data was also sent to the Office for National Statistics, who confirmed they do not hold figures on rough sleeper deaths due to the way deaths are reported.


There's a new piece of legislation, but cynicism is rife. This again from the Guardian:-

Homelessness: another fine mess for councils created by government
Instead of rethinking welfare cuts or building more homes, ministers have refused to face the human cost of their policies. The Homelessness Reduction Act, which came into force this month, is at the same time a necessary and utterly ludicrous piece of legislation.

It is necessary because homelessness is spiralling out of control. As research from Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published on 11 April reveals, there has been a 169% rise in rough sleeping, a 48% rise in the number of homelessness cases dealt with by local councils and a staggering 250% rise in people living in bed and breakfast accommodation since 2010. These rises mean England has more than 78,000 households living in temporary accommodation and more than 9,000 people living on the streets – and these figures are widely accepted to be a severe underestimate.

The new act places a legal duty on councils to help people at risk of homelessness find accommodation. They have been given £72m over three years to help deliver this – an amount that is almost certainly not enough but is a start.

It all sounds admirable. In reality, though, this is an exercise in policymaking so irrational it would be funny if it were not literally a matter of life and death. Not for the first time local government is being required to clear up a social and moral mess that is entirely the result of terrible policy decisions by central government.

Heather Wheeler, the homelessness minister, may disingenuously claim not to know what has caused the rise in homelessness but the Commons public accounts committee, the National Audit Office(NAO) and those who work with homeless people are of one voice: cuts to housing-related welfare payments and council support services are the drivers. They also agree that the impact of these cuts has been made worse by an overheated housing market in which private rental costs have skyrocketed in recent years.

In any logical policymaking world, a government might look at this evidence of the causes behind a growing national crisis and take action. Maybe rethink welfare reforms. Possibly bring some sanity back to the housing market by letting councils borrow more to build affordable homes for rent. Or even do something to reverse the 29% cuts to local government spending since 2010 now that the prime minister has admitted there is more money for vital public services.

And in a truly logical policymaking world, the former chancellor George Osborne would have listened to the Chartered Institute of Housing and numerous housing charities when they told him many years ago that cutting housing-related welfare payments and council support services would lead to greater homelessness. If he had, he might have foreseen that his money-saving plans would increase council spending on temporary accommodation by £330m.

As the NAO stated in 2012, the government has failed to take enough notice of the likely impact of its cuts on housing. And despite that early warning, the NAO concluded in September, this see-no-evil attitude continues today. In short, expect irrational policymaking – and the suffering of homeless people – to continue.

Adam Lent is director of the New Local Government Network


This final article from the Guardian seems to indicate the minister is in denial:- 

Homelessness minister: I don’t know why rough sleeper numbers are up
Heather Wheeler says she does not believe welfare reform and council cuts are factors

The UK’s new homelessness minister has told the Guardian she does not know why the number of rough sleepers has increased so significantly in recent years. Heather Wheeler said she did not accept the suggestion that welfare reforms and council cuts had contributed to the rise.

On a visit to a housing project in Glasgow, Wheeler said she remained “totally confident” she would not have to act on her pledge to resign should she fail to meet the Conservative manifesto commitment of halving rough sleeping by 2022, and eradicating it by 2027. “We’re going to move heaven and earth to get that done,” she promised.

In a recent interview, the Guardian spoke to Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, who sits on Wheeler’s new rough sleeping advisory group for England. He expressed his frustration at the Westminster government’s failure to recognise the influence of welfare reforms – such as the housing benefit freeze, the household benefit cap and the universal credit rollout – on homelessness.

Wheeler was asked on Thursday about the reasons for the rise in rough sleeping, which has increased in England for seven consecutive years; official figures show 4,751 people slept outside overnight in 2017. The MP for South Derbyshire said: “In truth, I don’t know. That’s one of the interesting things for me to find out over the last eight weeks that I’ve been doing the job. We’ve looked at the different cohorts, and in London the number of veterans who are rough sleepers is down to about 2%.”

Commending the “amazing job” done by armed forces charities, she went on to describe a second “classic” reason for rough sleeping: coming out of prison with no support. “It’s very difficult. We also have a real problem in London with people coming over [mainly from Europe] for jobs, sofa surfing with friends, and then the job changes and they have a problem.”

Wheeler was visiting Turning Point Scotland’s Housing First project, part of an internationally successful model that places the most entrenched rough sleepers in permanent housing before they deal with addiction, mental illness or other challenges. It works on the assumption that people make the most progress when in a stable home, rather than a hostel or shared temporary accommodation.

In November, the Conservative government pledged £28m for similar pilots in the West Midlands, Manchester and Liverpool. A government-funded study in Liverpool concluded that Housing First could save £4m compared with current homelessness services in the area. Describing the appeal of Housing First, Wheeler asked: “What does ‘good’ look like? Having 80% of tenancies renewed. Drug rehab, booze rehab, mental health issues ... they can get sorted so much better when the wraparound care is there.”

Scotland, which had almost eliminated homelessness after pioneering legislation was passed by Holyrood in 2003, has recently experienced a similar increase, with an estimated 5,000 rough sleepers across the year.

The homelessness and rough sleeping action group, commissioned by the Scottish government and chaired by Sparkes, set out its first recommendations in November, which were immediately implemented. They included giving credit cards to frontline workers who need to make emergency purchases for rough sleepers, and rapid rehousing in settled accommodation rather than leaving people for months or years in temporary placements.

Wheeler said she was “mulling over” the action group’s recommendations and their applicability south of the border: “I want to come up here and learn about what goes on.”

Asked whether she perceived a difference in attitude to homelessness between Holyrood and Westminster, Wheeler said: “Actually, no. I think that maybe England is a tad more cautious in that we are very keen that we have proper pilots and we assess it. And I regret to say that the problem with the supply of affordable housing in England is much, much, much larger than Scotland. I find it fascinating that there is no private-sector rental used at all to place people up here – it’s all local authority and housing association, because you have supply.”

Asked whether she had heard from Glasgow service users that welfare cuts were leading to greater domestic insecurity, and if she felt at odds with other government departments in her mission, she said: “I didn’t hear that, which is refreshing. This is about supply. If you don’t sort out supply of affordable housing, there’s another million people living in our lovely country, we need to have greater supply of affordable housing. We are spending £9bn on affordable housing [by March 2021] because we recognise that’s what we have to do.”


  1. Rory stewart was questioned by the justice committee this week about the number of people being released from prison homeless. His response was that it was the duty of prisons and probation to advise and signpost, but ultamately responsibility for housing lay with local councils.
    I guess that's just a statement of fact.
    Yet in the next remark by the justice committee it was revealed that many local councils in the UK have adopted a policy where anyone who gets a custodial sentence is deemed to have made themselves intentionally homekess, and as such they had no obligation to those being released from custody.
    That possition is surely only going to increase the number of rough sleepers.


    1. It was another coalition (i.e. Tory) cleansing policy alongside the 'hostile illegal immigrant' policy, namely to use the term "anti-social behaviour" as a blunt instrument for "managing our communities". Convictions for drugs, violence or other offences deemed to be 'anti-social' were used as reasons not to offer housing to people. I've sat in too many meetings where local authority housing officials simply refused to accept any responsibility to house people - usually whipping out a PNC printout & citing their history of convictions as the basis for refusal. Clearly there was collusion between the local authorities and the police, otherwise how were they getting PNC records?

      Make them homeless because of their offending history, cite "intentionally homeless" as the basis - *well, they committed the offence so its their fault* - then hound them on the streets using by-laws and jail them under ASBO or equivalent anti-social legislation.

      I'm surprised they didn't just put them all on a boat & send them overseas, with a copy of the (not at all racist) Home Office guidance:

      *** A Government guide given to Jamaican deportees advises them to fake a “local accent” to help them stay safe.

      “Try to be Jamaican,” it says. “Use local accents and dialects (overseas accents can attract unwanted attention).”***

    2. Pg. 24 Try to be ‘Jamaican’ – use local accents and dialect (overseas accents can attract unwanted attention)

  2. It's not just government policy or that of local council's but the problem of people being released homeless from prison is also contributed to by probation itself. I ended up homeless upon release from prison because my OM refused point blank to let me move to another CRC area despite the fact that area had agreed to the transfer and I had guaranteed suitable accommodation in that area. There was absolutely no justification for the refusal as my crime was non violent, I had zero special conditions on my licence and no restrictions on where I could live. So I spent 3 months homeless in appalling conditions simply because this OM was determined to be as unpleasant and as unhelpful as possible.

    1. Sorry read that but please keep in mind CRC is not probation.


    1. A mum burst into tears and started shouting in court because she was worried she might NOT be sent to jail.

      Shoplifter Julie Drever, 51, broke down when it looked as if she might be spared a prison term for shoplifting coffee, which breached a supervision order for a previous sentence.

      Andrew Vaughan, prosecuting, told Grimsby magistrates that Drever stole five jars of coffee, valued at £16, from B&M Bargains on April 16. She stole eight jars of coffee, valued at £24.43, from the same Grimsby shop on April 17 and put them in her handbag.

      "She told police she stole smaller jars on the second day because she could fit more in her bag," said Mr Vaughan. "She had been living rough."

      Saleem Khan, mitigating, said Drever's benefit had been stopped and she had no money and wanted to go to jail for a shower ahead of a fresh start.

      "She was homeless, hungry and suffering heroin withdrawal," said Mr Khan. "She wishes to go to custody today. It's not something I like asking for. Usually, other options are available to the court.

      "She is worried that, if released immediately by the court, she will be back on the streets and will be back on the heroin and back stealing again. While in prison, she will clean herself up, shower herself and, she hopes, emerge with an address to go to."

      The probation service told the court: "The support is there."

      After initially fearing she might not be jailed, Drever, who admitted two offences of theft and another of breaching her post-sentence supervision after an earlier prison sentence, calmed down and was sent to prison for 12 weeks.

    2. Prison in favor of community sentence is better because community sentences offer nothing.

  4. "Probation Trainees Conference 21st May 2018

    The first Trainees Conference – for QIP 2 and 2a Trainees in NPS and CRCs – will be at De Montfort University, Leicester on Monday 21st May from 10.30 to 4.00 pm.
    Speakers include:
    – Sonia Crozier, Executive Director, National Probation Service & Women
    – Dr Coral Sirdifield – Offender Health, Lincoln University
    – Nick Hall – Chief Executive of Northumbria, South Yorkshire, Cumbria & Lancashire Community Rehabilitation Companies "

    1. That Conference is from these people

      Probation Institute
      2 Langley Lane
      London SW8 1GB
      0203 0533 551

    2. Thank you for advertising this Andrew even though a little off topic. I take it you agree that this is the kind of constructive thing an institute should be doing and were not just trying to stir things up?

      The conference is for PQIP 2 and 2a Trainees in NPS and the CRCs

      Let’s try to build bridges and find common ground and support all those who want to be probation officers despite what has happened.

    3. I think the Probation Institute is a dreadful organisation a child of Grayling who first told the public of its existence.

      Now hiding behind the Anonymity of its supporters.

    4. Afterthought.

      I claim an interest in Probation Officer Trainees Conferences, having attended the first ever national one (England & Wales) in 1974 convened by the old London Branch of Napo - I was a student member of Merseyside Branch - we were only associate members - the same status I now hold within Napo.

      At the end of that first conference I was pushed forward by contemporaries from The Clare Morris Course in Liverpool to join the prospective organising committee of the second conference and I took a full part in the arrangements and other Napo Student related matters in that year.

      Subsequently, I think Napo - or The National Association of Probation Officers - as the organisation was then titled - ran further annual conferences from its administrative headquarters.

      That second conference was chaired by David Mathieson, then I think - Vice Chair of Napo and PR Committee chair and ACPO, in Merseyside. He was ultimately CPO at the time I left Merseyside in 1982 -

      Maybe I should relate a few of my stories about him - such as the time he was very graceful and as CPO on an unannounced visit to the Marybone Office - discovered that one of my Hindley Neighbourhood Borstal Clients had found the storage place for the key to the connecting door between the offices/waiting area and reception area and removed it - with all the staff on the inside unable to leave. A few minutes extreme embarrassment and flap for us all especially the much loved SPO Harry Holmes.

    5. Graylings PR team pulled a blinder by issuing a carefully worded press release that fooled many into believing that Grayling had come up with the idea of the PI himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. The PI is the legacy of the Probation Chiefs Association with the assistance of the unions. It also got £50k startup from the MoJ that they matched with their own funds not from Grayling personally in the same way that staff associations have received funding. Had it not been nobbled by Graylings PR department we may well have the benefit of a properly functioning professional body that would have done much to safeguard the profession. I know for a fact that Graylings supporters clap their hands every time the PI gets a bashing on here and by bashing the only association for ex chiefs and others in positions of influence and power to rally around the Probation profession has been left high and dry and bereft of another avenue of support. It takes a bit more thought to get past the taint of Grayling at its inception and look at its potential. Saying something, that is run on a shoestring by well meaning people, is a dreadful organisation is your opinion and you are entitled to it but actively campaigning against other voices that largely agree that TR was a disaster seems like campaigning against and demonising allies who are doing their bit in their own way. Individually you’d probably find much in common with those currently involved with the institute however you choose to make them the villains.

    6. You mean this press release:-

      The Probation Institute will be an independent ‘centre of excellence’ for the rehabilitation sector. Once established, it will support professional development - building on the Probation Service’s considerable experience – for all those who are managing offenders in the community.

      Radical government reforms to rehabilitation will bring together the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors working together to reduce stubbornly high reoffending rates that see 600,000 crimes committed each year by those who have already broken the law.

      As part of these changes we are creating a new National Probation Service, tasked with protecting the public from the most dangerous offenders. Across the country 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are also being formed to supervise and rehabilitate around 225,000 low and medium risk offenders, who are often the most prolific offenders.

      The Probation Institute will work with these organisations and potential providers to reduce reoffending and drive up standards.

      Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said:

      “Reoffending has been too high for too long. Our reforms will bring a new approach to dealing with chaotic offenders who commit crimes time and again. We want to see organisations and mentors with the expertise and specialist skills to manage these offenders and keep the public safe, and the Probation Institute will help us ensure this happens. It will allow us to get the best out of the public, private and voluntary sectors in our fight against reoffending.”

      The independent Institute will be a joint venture of probation staff and employer representative bodies.

      A spokesperson for the Probation Chiefs Association, on behalf of the joint venture, said:

      “The Probation Institute will aim to develop the probation profession and be a centre of excellence, supporting evidence based practice and the continuing professional development of staff, so that the best outcomes are secured both in terms of public safety and reducing reoffending. We believe that the development of the Institute is something that needs to be led by the profession itself and we welcome the support that the Government is giving to the establishment of this important new body.”

      The Ministry of Justice is to provide up to £90,000 towards the set-up costs for the Institute and work is under way for it to be operational by March 2014. The Probation Chiefs Association and the Probation Association are also jointly contributing £60,000 to the set-up costs. Future funding will be from membership subscriptions.

      The committee stage of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill continues in the House of Commons on 3 December. Our reforms will mean for the first time every offender released from custody receives statutory supervision and rehabilitation in the community for at least 12 months.

      A nationwide network of 82 resettlement prisons is also being created so the majority of offenders are released into the area in which they will live and be supervised. Our new approach will see providers only paid in full if they are successful at reducing reoffending, making taxpayers’ money go further and ensuring all sentences deliver both punishment and rehabilitation.