Universal Credit should help prevent homelessness – and Housing and Homelessness Specialists in Jobcentres can make that possible.
Last Wednesday, MP’s debated Universal Credit in the Houses of Parliament. Both in Parliament and in the media, Universal Credit has been getting more and more attention as the roll-out continues and expands.
Universal Credit is one of the biggest welfare reforms in decades and rolls six benefits into one monthly payment. It was intended to be a simpler system offering financial and employability support to all who need it. But a lack of investment means the reality is that the roll out has been beset by delays and errors. As Housing Benefit is one of the benefits now part of Universal Credit, this has left too many people struggling to pay their rent while they also try to cover the cost of essentials like bills, food, and clothes. These financial pressures build up, and worryingly more people are being put at risk of homelessness.
The Westminster Government has committed to end rough sleeping by 2027 and launched it’s rough sleeping strategy for England in August. Financial support from the welfare system is a crucial part of helping someone to avoid homelessness or leave the devastation of homelessness behind. Universal Credit must work to support the government’s ambitions around rough sleeping and homelessness. The system should work to prevent homelessness altogether, so that no one ends up forced into the very worst forms of homelessness like rough sleeping.
An important part of making Universal Credit work to prevent homelessness is getting the support in Jobcentres right. Jobcentres are the main point of contact for people receiving Universal Credit. If someone on Universal Credit is at risk of homelessness, or comes in to receive support to move on from homelessness, Jobcentre staff must know how to help. Historically, Jobcentres have focused on how to help someone into work. But how can anyone reasonably focus on work when they’re worried about whether they can keep a roof over their head?
We need to get the support right for Universal Credit to work.
That’s why Crisis is calling for funding of £20 million in the Autumn Budget 2018 for Housing and Homelessness Specialists in every Jobcentre. These specialists would play a dual role of building local partnerships, such as with local authority Housing Options teams, to create a network of support for people and help with the practicalities of Universal Credit. This means being able to support people to claim Universal Credit and receive support as quickly as possible, including with keeping on top of rent payments, and making sure people can secure somewhere safe to live, without having to worry about searching for a job at the same time.
These specialists will also help embed an understanding of homelessness and housing within the Jobcentre, so that all Jobcentre work coaches have the tools to help people who are homeless or at risk. At Crisis, we see every day how stable housing is crucial for people to move on from homelessness, or avoid it altogether, and allows them to take steps towards fulfilling their aspirations for work and contributing to communities in some way.
We know the role of the Housing and Homelessness Specialists are an important part of making this happen. In Newcastle and Edinburgh, where our services are already trialling this approach with specialists, we’ve seen the huge difference it makes.
In Edinburgh, none of our clients have been sanctioned as a result of specialists embedding homelessness and housing knowledge in Jobcentres. Jobcentre work coaches understand the reality of what people can do when they also have unstable housing, and possibly other barriers to work, to contend with. This is important when we know that sanctions cause homelessness. In Newcastle, over a third (35%) of people engaged in the project have had their homelessness prevented or resolved. After a year since the start of the project, we’re also seeing some clients starting work now that they’re in a stable home.
Investment in Homelessness and Housing Specialists in Jobcentres is just one piece of the puzzle to get Universal Credit where we want it to be: preventing, and rapidly responding to, homelessness. But it is an important piece that will help us get a step closer to the reality of ending homelessness for good in Britain.
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