Sunday, 27 February 2011

Why soup kitchen ban is only first skirmish in coming battles over homelessness

The richest Tory-run Council in the country is seeking to ban soup kitchens for the homeless from an area around Westminster Cathedral. Labour Uncut has provided the documents to prove that they really hadn't made up the story with a "you couldn't make it up" feel to it.

A controversy over banning soup kitchens could prove particularly toxic for the "big society". Coming so soon after much 'big society tsar has too little time for the role' satire, the big idea could certainly do without another existential credibility controversy, while Steve Hilton seeks to patiently nurse it back to health after Andy Coulson's attempt to kill it with kindness through benign communications neglect.

There is legitimate debate about the role of soup runs in providing help to the most vulnerable. The LSE produced a balanced report on the issues in Westminster. While homeless charities are keen to promote alternative provision, it seems very unlikely that civic voices which are widely trusted would support the ban as a way to do this.

Westminster Council dropped a push for a London-wide soup run ban in 2007, as Ekklesia reports. Critics suggest one foreseeable effect of the current proposals will be to push rough sleepers to other boroughs.

Homelessness will return as a political issue this year - and this may come to be seen as one early skirmish in a much broader policy and political battle. As Next Left has noted before, the Tory-led Coalition government is quietly planning to weaken current statutory homelessness provisions.

Westminster Council has been leading the push on this - lobbying ministers over a series of specific ways in which the government might weaken the legal duties of councils to house the homeless, believing that this will be necessary to handle the fallout from their housing benefit changes.

This is not a discussion that Coalition Ministers are keen to have in public at this stage - and Liberal Democrats with an interest in social housing, such as Simon Hughes, or local government will be put on the spot if and when the plans are unveiled. Lord Freud has publicly suggested that the legal duty to provide "adequate housing" could be redefined, as it may seem rather too strong.


Freud said it could be "quite valuable" to revise the current criteria in place, arguing: "We have found it very difficult to define homelessness in this country. The estimates [of homelessness] go from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands depending on who you are talking to."

...

"Clearly the common view of homelessness is nothing over one's head at all. The statutory definitions are different to that, and they are adequate housing."


Westminster Council is claiming its proposed bye-laws are motivated only by what is best for the homeless.

You can be pretty sure that the Coalition government will claim the same, when it does produce plans to weaken statutory duties to assist those who are homeless.

4 comments:

Kirstin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirstin said...

Great post, and as a resident of Westminster, I have been trying to look into the issue after my initial horror at the proposals.
The use of byelaws to enforce change to soup runs has been in Westminster Council's Rough Sleeping Strategy 2010-13 (pg 35)
WCC rough sleeping strategy 2010-13
although no mention of use to target those sleeping rough in their strategy.
Their consultation document from this strategy also makes for interesting reading
WCC rough sleeping consultation

Dotty said...

Thanks for this! Was wondering if there was somewhere I could get statistics of homeless in London - for example: Reasons for homelessness, nationality etc. Ongoing debate with my mum at the moment :P

michaeltmerrick said...

A few years back there were charitable organisations dedicated to finding homes for homeless children.

They were outlawed by Labour.

Still, all for a good cause, eh?