Shhhhhelter is not fit for purpose

Is Shelter the homeless organisation fit for purpose? No!

No is the only answer to that question, one I never thought I would ever have to contemplate let alone argue was correctly posited, which it is.


The issue is the Benefit Cap policy that will easily quadruple child homelessness and which Shelter has done nothing about.

This is THE most important policy as to homeless impact there has ever been yet all Shelter has done is report the CIH analysis of the policy impacts and nothing more.

It does not help when that CIH analysis is only for families with 1 – 4 children and its numbers ignores the near 7000 already capped households with 5 or more children and the single persons who currently account for over 6% of all capped households.

Far more importantly is that the CIH analysis ONLY concentrates on the existing tenants and says nothing at all – like Shelter – on the 150,000 households containing 500,000 children who will be denied social housing each year because they are a Benefit Cap risk.

Shelter has done a fabulous job over the years and its regular festive campaign focusing on the numbers of children in unsuitable temporary homeless accommodation each Christmas is superb and clever.  As anyone who has ever worked in the field will tell you Christmas is the only time the general public have genuine concern for those who are homeless and for the other 11 months of the year ‘the homeless’ are viewed pejoratively.

So the series of campaigns that began with (from memory) 83,000 children will be homeless at Christmas a few years ago and this year sees 120,000 homeless children at Christmas is a clever and much needed campaign.

Next year however will Shelter be running a campaign stating 370,000 children homeless at Christmas … or will it be 570,000?  Those numbers are not dystopian they are very real indeed and show precisely why Shelter has become not fit for purpose.

Perhaps Shelter has not seen that the Benefit Cap is no longer a London only issue and even on the DWP’s pathetic figures will see just 20% of UK families and children affected being in the capital (now it is 44%) and the 32% higher yet still inadequate CIH figures it moves to less than 16% of all capped households being in London and 5 in every 6 in the regions.

Regardless of how Shelter has missed THE most impactful policy ever to affect homelessness and THE most damaging policy ever to hit homelessness, Shelter has missed it – and that is the problem.

In missing Shelter has only proved it is not fit for purpose

We even had a recent column in the Guardian by its CEO Campbell Robb stating in his view all that is wrong in homelessness and bemoaning the fact that Shelter is still necessary when it shouldn’t be.  Yet in that article he fails to once mention the Benefit Cap and THE biggest impact on homelessness there has ever been in its entire 50 year history!

Anyone think Chris Holmes would have missed this? Never in a million years!

Shelter can no longer be true to its roots and raison d’etre of campaigning against homelessness when it does not even see the catastrophic impact the Benefit Cap will have on homelessness.  It further cannot be fit for purpose when it misses the biggest open goal there has ever been in the field which is what the Benefit Cap represents.

Shelter has become the Establishment it was set up to challenge and it doesn’t have the balls for a fight or any campaigning; it appears merely concerned with how many contracts it can pick up to advise and/or deliver light touch support services and how many chuggers it can have on the streets this time of year.

What homelessness needs is the same fire in the belly that Shelter had 50 years ago.  We are returning to the means test with the Benefit Cap and social landlords whether HA or council WILL be refusing to accommodate any family with three or more children and in some cases two children because they will inevitably be evicted as the benefit system makes savage cuts that sees a 3 bed social housing property become a benefit tenant no-go zone.

We have seen ALL social landlords take flight from allocating to the under occupying family with its national average £66.44 per month housing benefit cut and so the average £330 per month housing benefit cut that the Benefit Cap gives will see 150,000 if not more families refused social housing and go directly to the homeless department to be placed in temporary homeless accommodation.

Even if you believe the truly inept DWP figures on this the average monthly cut to housing benefit will be £192 per month or 3 times the bedroom tax HB cut that sees social (sic) landlords take flight from.

How could Shelter have missed this obvious consequence of the Benefit Cap?

Those 150,000 families will contain 500,000 children who add to the existing number of homeless children EACH YEAR yet not a single word about this inevitability has come out of Shelter.

Even if you think my figures are twice as high as the reality then that is still an ADDITIONAL 250,000 homeless children and more than triples the existing number making 370,000 to the existing disgrace of 120,000

Nobody has or will argue that private landlords will refuse to accept the ‘benefit tenant’ given the savage Benefit Cap cuts yet nobody has thought to consider whether social landlords will refuse the benefit-capped or at risk of benefit cap households in the 385,000 new tenancies they have each year.

We had a House of Commons paper this month on private landlords refusing to take the ‘benefit tenant’ that wholly failed to even ask whether social landlords would do this!!

It appears that Shelter and the rest of the London, London, Bloody London based establishment do not realise that the 87% of UK housing that is not in the capital has had a 23% and £500 per calendar month cut in the maximum housing benefit tenants can receive!  They also overlook that 80%+ of those capped will NOT be in the London housing bubble that their minds only ever consider.

They overlook that 6 in every 7 currently capped households cannot take up employment as they are in receipt of an incapacity benefit or they have preschool age children and little chance of child care as it would need 400,000 new child care places to magic up out of the ether to allow them to work.

One final point.  The Benefit Cap will mean that my home city of Liverpool will see a cautiously low SIX families per day containing TWENTY children will be evicted in the first year of the Benefit Cap.  That is twenty CHILDREN every working day of the year.  FIFTEEN classrooms full of children each and every month will be evicted and made homeless.

Liverpool is by no means the worst affected area of the country and many places will have more CHILDREN evicted and made homeless and areas with a higher percentage of privately renting tenants will suffer much greater levels.

That is just existing tenants too and for every two existing households evicted in social housing we will see five families refused social housing and both due to the Benefit Cap policy – that’s the policy that Shelter the UK’s supposed leading homelessness lobby has said nothing at all about!



6 thoughts on “Shhhhhelter is not fit for purpose

  1. I e-mailed Shelter, stating their support for building more houses-to-buy, was missing the real cause of homelessness. The lack of council housing, at affordable rents or welfare support, for those who do not have the financial means to pay rent. To me, they failed in their remit, to protect the homeless, as you state, they are not ‘fit-for-purpose’.

  2. I wrote to a homeless magazine on this issue 7 years ago after facing burn out. I campaign on slightly different issues as I felt like I was going mad trying to persuade good people that many charities simply aren’t fit for purpose:

    May 24th 2009

    Dear Editor, I’m writing to you as someone who has read your magazine since it first came out, alongside your many homeless readers. After eight years in the charitable sector, mainly working with the homeless, I’ve become disillusioned and have decided to leave. Few charities speak out over, or appear to have concerns about, issues such as hot washing the places where homeless people sleep or the attempted ban of soup runs. I got fed up attending homeless forum meetings. Whenever I raised concerns about how some councils work, the room would go quiet; yet at the end of meetings, when no one was looking or could hear, someone would always come up and say they agreed with what I’d said. The attempted banning of free food was the final straw: I saw it as an attempt to stop providing something that many of your readership need to survive. The idea that people “choose” to stand out in freezing temperatures for a cup of soup and that this created dependency was ludicrous, yet most campaigning homeless charities I spoke to, kept quiet – though they had initially been concerned; others either pretended it wasn’t happening or perhaps agreed with the proposal. This seemed to be an act of desperation from those in charge who had run out of ideas. When St Mungo’s are quoted by the BBC as saying how wonderful it is that there are only 69 recorded rough sleepers in Westminster and Jerry Swain from Thamesreach responds to a report that most charities feel under pressure from their funders by with the words “I think they need to shape up”, I feel as if I’m listening to the government instead of charities. The reality is that many services for the homeless are harder to access and the criteria for getting into hostels gets tougher by the day. Why is there not more of a debate about these issues? When councils quote statistics saying how great it is that homeless applications have dropped dramatically, why aren’t we telling the world that this may be due to many councils’ increasingly aggressive policy of gatekeeping to stop people being assessed, let alone housed? Homeless Link has praised the government’s vision for ending homelessness. Yet barring some form of miracle, I doubt they “will see rough sleeping ended in our time” if they do not deal with the problems that create homelessness in the first place: poverty and inequality. We would need to improve our current housing stock; build thousands of new affordable homes; introduce a far higher minimum wage and benefits that cover the high cost of living, to name some of the obvious problems that people who are homeless generally face along with the 13m in poverty in the UK. A few, such as Housing Justice and the Simon Community, still challenge things; and Advice UK and the National Coalition for Independent Action have started a lonely battle to defend the independence of charities. However, unless others get behind them, as far as I am concerned, homeless charities will end up doing nothing more than helping to implement government policy instead of helping the homeless. And many more may end up among the growing numbers of hidden homeless who are moved out of the sight of the tourists in London.

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