Homelessness Report Sobering Reading for Frontline Sedgemoor

Report highlights homelessness issue

A worrying report on the  increase in homelessness locally and nationally was brought to Sedgemoors Executive this week by Housing officer Jerry Milton, who spoke passionately about the problem, presenting the facts and outlining solutions while painting an often harrowing picture of the levels of hardships his officers were encountering from their customers on a daily basis.

Mr Milton explained that Homelessness was on the increase Nationally due to the changes by Government to welfare reforms, notably the introduction of the controversial Universal Credit, and locally because of the pressures of the Hinkley Point project which was seeing landlords favouring what they see as higher paid and ‘better’ tenants who they could get more money from.

Of particular concern is the increase in single homeless people for who there is historic under-provision, and an increase in cases perceived as vulnerable and who Sedgemoor as the frontline agency has a responsibility to deal with as first and last resort. There is further concern at the welfare bill going through Parliament which will have a significant financial impact on Local Councils.

 Welfare reforms

Change has got to come

Jerry Milton confirmed that Sedgemoor was performing better than many councils in homelessness prevention but was now under pressure from these crucial factors, namely Welfare reforms and Hinkley workforce. In order to keep Sedgemoor at the forefront of the struggle extra money was needed and an additional growth bid was asked from the Executive of a further £105,500  per year over a 3 year period.

Mr Milton said “The homelessness we see on the street is the tip of the iceberg. There’s many other serious cases who hide away from public view because they are embarrassed by their circumstances, and end up on derelict sites and in empty buildings. Many of the cases we deal with stem from some childhood trauma and increasingly there’s mental health issues or drug related factors. We’re also seeing an increasing number of ex-forces personnel in this situation. The average life expectancy of homeless people is 47 years and they are statistically 9 times more likely to commit suicide. We have had such cases in Sedgemoor which are very distressing for my staff who have worked with these vulnerable people to try to find a solution and then feel they’ve let them down. Homelessness is literally life and death for some people. It’s our duty to find temporary accommodation for people when the system fails them and traditionally we’ve pointed people to the private sector  but  this is becoming harder to come by as landlords seek what they feel are ‘better’ or ‘more secure’ tenants on higher salaries coming to work at Hinkley”

Last train to Sedgemoor

Cllr Janet Keen “demeaning”

Mr Milton further alarmed members by saying “We deal with this and take our responsibilities seriously but frankly a lot of other authorities are rubbish and sometimes we find them putting their homeless on a train and just sending them down here to us to deal with.”

The tensions arising from the meeting almost broke out into open warfare as Cllr Gill Slocombe (Con, Wyndham) called for “no more rabbit hutches” to be built while fellow Tory Cllr Janet Keen (Con,Highbridge) loudly whispered “idiot” at her before explaining “For many people these flats are paradise and we shouldn’t refer to them in such demeaning terms!” She added a suggestion that all the Somerset (Tory) MPs should be locked in a room and forced to listen to the facts about homelessness.

Tory leader Duncan McGinty (Con, East Polden) calmed the meeting down saying “We have a role to play and we can’t do it all but we are not washing our hands of the matter. Our budget is set but I will take this growth bid back for consideration”

Opposition calls for National Action

Cllr Brian Smedley ‘National Action needed’

Cllr Brian Smedley (Labour Westover) who was in attendance at the Executive as Chair of Corporate Scrutiny, commented “When Sedgemoor gets something right we have no hesitation in saying that and it’s clear that they are genuinely concerned about the Homelessness crisis, that they have a dedicated frontline team who are doing a great job  and as a result I’m sure the council will follow the Leaders recommendation and increase the funding accordingly. However, the national factors at play here stem from policies created by their own Government -namely the changes in Welfare rules and the funding cuts to local authorities and so we need to deal with this issue nationally and as a priority.The more tricky factor is the impact of Hinkley Point which in the long run should bring benefits but in the short term landlords will be busy converting loftspace, ousting tenants and upping rents. This situation should be resolved by Local Labour Agreements. That said the EDF ‘drive to work’ target of 90 minutes includes Southampton…although with the amount of roadworks they’re throwing up around the town that could just as easily apply to the top end of Bristol Road these days”

 Home is a basic need


Cllr Mick Lerry -“Labour would make funding available”

Sedgemoor Labour Group leader Cllr Mick Lerry (Labour Victoria) offered some solution  saying “the Labour Party recognises that a home is in fact a basic “need” rather than a “want”. In order to make sure that people who find themselves in a desperate situation, with no home or accommodation, then preventive action must take place, and must be funded centrally by Government.

The present Government is passing the Homelessness Reduction Bill through Parliament, which is likely to become an Act in April 2017. At the moment it is difficult to predict locally how many people will become homeless, but pressures such as the welfare reform, lack of affordable homes and local displacement, have increased homelessness in Sedgemoor.

Labour would make sure that funding was available for Councils to address the widening gap between income and rent. Councils must be allowed to resume their historic responsibility to build homes and make sure local services, such as health, employment and skills are joined up to tackle homelessness. Councils will also be allowed to lend mortgages to people to purchase their own house, as part of the financial market. While at the same time making sure that tenants who rent property have a strong security of tenure.

Councils must be able to access the funding necessary to build more houses for rent and Councils must make sure that the right supply of housing is available for the local people”.

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