Try renting a room in Blackpool on £65 a week housing benefit if you’re 18 to 25 years old, challenges Jane Hugo, chief executive of Streetlife.
The specialist homeless charity for young people, established for 30 years, is one of three frontline charities facing funding cuts from 15 to 25 per cent, when Blackpool Council meets on Friday morning to discuss central Government funding and the authority’s own £18.1m budget cuts.
Jane says life is about to become even harder for homeless young people. “It will force even more to sleep rough, including more with the most complex needs. Crime and anti-social behaviour will increase as a result of people’s desperation and frustration,” she said.
“Young people will be hammered by housing benefit changes too, as well as losing out on our support. It’s proposed the higher single room rate of housing benefit will apply at 35, not 25.
“It legislates against the young. They get about £50 a week Job Seekers’ Allowance. We’ve seen those rooms – no heating, locks broken, you wouldn’t want your kids living in them. We’ve already got young people coming here to keep warm.
“Landlords aren’t going to want to know – they will favour the 35-plus market who receive the higher rate of housing benefit.
“It’s not as if there are jobs available, especially now so many face redundancy. Blackpool is already 12th in the index of multiple deprivation in the country.
“Now, thanks to further cutbacks in five years’ time, we could be at the top.
“Our night shelter will become blocked, as more young people go there because there is nowhere else. We can’t move them on because other charities, which offered allied facilities, are being hit just as hard.
“We’ll end up with more people sleeping rough. We’re throwing these young people’s futures away.”
“Just where are these people supposed to go,” adds a spokesman for The Ashley Foundation, Blackpool’s largest homeless charity, which provides accommodation for more than 300 of Blackpool’s most vulnerable residents, of all ages, each year.
“Great progress has been made in Blackpool over the last decade to tackle rough sleeping. It would be a tragedy to return to the situation we had 10 years ago, with people sleeping rough in shop doorways.
“A 20 per cent cut in funding would mean a 20 per cent cut in service. That is accommodation for 60 people.
“This is Great Britain in the 21st century – not a third world country.”
Paul Greenwood, chief executive of Bay Housing Association, agrees. “It undermines all our good work. It turns the clock back. It’s almost Dickensian. It’s not as if anyone’s taken a strategic look at where the need is highest. These are cuts via the back door.”
The two chief executives Jane and Paul, together with Amber Sylvester, support and development manager for The Ashley Foundation, who issued a statement on behalf of the foundation, but refuses to comment individually, have joined forces to combat the threat of further cutbacks.
All three say it will lead to staff and service cutbacks – and more people sleeping rough. They fear some hostels, supported and sheltered accommodation, could ultimately close. They warn those with “multiple needs”, mental health, addiction issues, no family support, are most likely to suffer, through lack of specialist staffing support.
They know they can’t stop the cuts ... but are concerned at the scale proposed by Blackpool Council in administering central Government’s Supporting People grants.
Local authority SP grants – last year’s was £6.9m for Blackpool – are no longer ring-fenced but rolled into a formula grant, which allows allocations for other services.
David Cameron, in outlining his Big Society, has asked local government to avoid passing the cuts on to the third sector.
As yet, not one of the three charities asked to project the impact of 15-25 per cent cutbacks on their service knows just how much will be in the SP pot, but they estimate their loss (at the lowest level proposed, 15 per cent) at between £15,000 to £60,000 from April. That’s on top of council grant cuts. Steetlife has already lost £14k that way. It’s a double whammy for charities who represent the Big Society in all but branding.
According to Homelesslink, the national charity which supports organisations working directly with homeless people in England, the Government’s funding to local councils has shrunk by 2.9 per cent, when it should have risen by 77 per cent in Blackpool alone, based on the national formula of needs. It’s estimated that for every £1 spent, £2.50 is saved long term and more acute care costs.
Blackpool Council won a Green Flag for its approach to homelessness last year, says Streetlife chief Jane, and attributed the honour to its partnership with specialist charities. Streetlife itself won the Queen’s Award last year.
David Lund executive director for children, adults and family services, said: “We have been carrying out a number of scenario planning exercises ahead of the council’s budget setting meeting so that we can better understand the impact on individual providers dependant on what cuts are imposed on a service.
“The scenarios we have asked our providers to feed back on are in no way a prediction of what cuts they face but will help us with planning in the future.”