Fears rough sleeping will increase when Universal Credit comes to Norwich
“Homelessness isn’t inevitable. It is the result of choices we have made as a society.”
Dan Mobbs worked for 10 years in homelessness outreach, and as the number of rough sleepers on our streets continues to rise, he says austerity and changes to the benefits system are responsible.
Now chief executive of the Mancroft Advice Project, Mr Mobbs gives support to 11-25 year olds, including preventing homelessness.
He said he is fearful of the rollout of Universal Credit to Norwich, which would lead to more people “falling through the net”.
“During the early 90s homelessness was pretty much like it is now,” he said. “We think it is unavoidable when things like inequality and poverty are happening, but they are the result of choices we make a society.
“When we have done something about it in the past it has worked.”
After the advent of schemes including the Supporting People Programme and Rough Sleepers Initiative in the late 1990s, Mr Mobbs said he saw rough sleeping numbers “go right down”.
“With all these people sleeping rough - they have needs around mental health, relationships and debt,” he said. “We need to throw some support at that.
“When I was last doing this in 2007/08 there was only one or two people sleeping rough in Norwich. Usually those were people with really difficult, challenging needs, not easy to resolve.
“The coalition government, then the government now, started to cut services. When they took off the ring fencing from the Supporting People Programme, hostels were cut and support was ended in people’s homes to prevent tenancies breaking down.
“It all results from the squeeze to local authority funding. The other side of it is all the changes to the welfare benefits system. That is supposed to be the safety net.
“Because of cuts to those services that safety net is being damaged and removed. Therefore more people are slipping through and sleeping rough.”
Universal Credit begins its roll out to Norwich this October, when Mr Mobbs expects rough sleeping numbers to rise even further.
“What has happened in Great Yarmouth is people are on benefits and are entitled but do not claim it because they could lose everything,” he said. “Some people are choosing not to take benefits because the thought of having no money at all for weeks is unthinkable. We used to think it was a safety net, now it is something we have to fight tooth and nail for. The current government do not seem to quite grasp the fact people do not have anything at all. They can’t wait eight weeks for a benefit claim. You can’t live off nothing.
“It is paid monthly and benefits just do not cover everything. I am really fearful of what has happened in other areas. People generally tend to pay the people that hassle them the most and often that is not your landlord. Everyone gets all the money at once, the debt collectors know when they get paid and will be knocking on their door.”
Efforts are being made to reduce homelessness. Council officers have recommended Norwich City Council cabinet approve two separate awards to tackle the issue amounting to a combined £1,061,808, spread across the next three years.
The majority of this – equating to more than £900,000 – would fund a consortium of organisations led by St Martins Housing Trust, which would work together to provide support for vulnerable people across the city. It is this type of investment into professional support services that is needed, according to Mr Mobbs.
“Supporting homeless people requires a lot of professionalism and skill,” he said.
“Those services that worked did so because they had trained professionals who know how to identify individuals needs around drugs and alcohol and provide the right services.
“Very few people sleeping rough haven’t got complex problems. You do not end up in these situations unless something has gone wrong. There are people in that group for whom it is simple and you don’t want them to go into a downward spiral.
“In the 1980s we had a debate about whether to give food to Africa. Now we are having the same conversation in our own country. It is right and proper to have that debate but it isn’t going to solve the problem in the long run.
“Starving people need food. It is more complicated to ask them why they are hungry and address those issues.”