Katie Milne, Policy, Public Affairs and Communications Assistant
The Homelessness Reduction Bill, a Private Member’s Bill proposed by Bob Blackman MP, is currently progressing through the Houses of Parliament. In seeking to change the Housing Act of 1996, the Bill is a step in the right direction of reducing the number of homeless people in the UK through improving local authority services. Latest statistics by the Department for Local Communities and Government show that levels of rough sleeping rose by 51% from 2014 to autumn 2016.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill could help local authorities identify and help those faced with losing their homes, but steps still need to be taken to prevent prisoners from becoming homeless once they are released.
On Wednesday 26th January, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness met in the Houses of Parliament to discuss the difficulties prisoners face in finding a home, which add to the UK’s “culture of homelessness”.
Contributions were made by two people who have experienced problems first-hand, Karen and Mike, who now work for the homeless charities Emmaus and Community Voice Council. They described ex-prisoners as being “at the mercy of the local authority” due to a lack of one-to-one advisory sessions on housing before release. They both experienced anxiety in prison over the uncertainty they faced, and stressed how prisoners should be put in touch with a housing service at least 3 to 6 months before their sentence ends. Currently only 2 out of 9 prisoners have a home in place, leading to higher levels of homelessness and re-offending.
Another difficulty which Karen and Mike both experienced was their low priority status. “If you’re healthy, you’re not a priority”, they agreed. A lack of affordable housing means that local authorities cannot help all those in need of a home at the same time. Those with mental health issues, drug and alcohol addiction and women who have children or are pregnant are prioritised. They also said that prisoners should be held in a prison which is in the best location for finding a home, rather than be moved to a different category prison which breaks local links.
Sally Hill, the Deputy Governor at HMP High Down, said that a lack of funding over the last five years has reversed rehabilitative aspects of the justice system. Not a lot can be done to assist prisoners with housing when they are only allowed out of their cell for 45 minutes a day due to low prison staff levels.
The private rented sector is of little help. Ex-prisoners are faced with the task of affording huge deposits, and landlords are unwilling to lower their rents to help local authorities through a shortage of affordable housing.
The problems prisoners face in finding a home are numerous and linked to rising levels of homelessness. Hopefully, the Homelessness Reduction Bill will act as a safety net before wider change is introduced to provide help to prisoners before they are released.
The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.