of course, from the real scandal — the growing numbers of people, particularly young people, with no money and no homes to go to. ‘There’s definitely a growing backlash at the moment against young people on the streets, which is only encouraged by what the newspapers are doing,’ says Lesley Johnston, a Shelter Housing Campaign officer. ‘And yet for 16—18-year-olds, who can‘t get any benefits. begging— degrading as it is — is often the only alternative to something worse. like drug-dealing or prostitution.‘
It was the 1988 ‘reform’ ofthe social security laws, withdrawing virtually all entitlement to state benefits from under 18s. which led directly to the upsurge in numbers of ‘hungry and homeless‘ teenagers on the streets. The most heartless aspect of the legislation is the way it hits the most vulnerable the hardest: young pe0ple who cannot stay with their families because of poverty, relationship breakdown or abuse, and who, for the same reasons. are not in a fit state, emotionally or mentally. to take up a training-scheme place. even ifone is available. ‘In Britain today we should not be allowing sixteen-year-olds to be coming out of care onto the streets, or into a bed-and-breakfast with no means of support,’ says Gill Young, formerly a worker withthe Scottish Council for Single
Homeless, now working on a study of the links between homelessness and mental illness. ‘The only money available is the Severe Hardship Allowance. for which they have to go into a DSS office and tell an
official that they were sexually abused as a child, or whatever the reason was they ended up in care. disclose really personal things to convince someone that they deserve £28 a week: it’s just sick.‘ Another blow was the abolition of DSS grants for essential major purchases like beds, cookers. fridges — replaced by loans
The tickle great British public quickly loses patience with problems that won't go away.
from the infamous Social Fund — and of one-off payments for deposits on private ﬂats. “Many district council housing departments are now giving priority to young homeless people,‘ says Lesley Johnston. ‘But council accommodation is unfurnished. and even if you apply to the Social Fund, the worse off you are. the less likely you are to be awarded a loan. And that‘s before you consider whether people have learned the skills to manage a budget, pay rent and bills — there‘s a very high level of abandonment of council housing among young people. In the private market, more and more landlords are refusing to take tenants who are on social security. largely because there‘s an average three-month wait for housing benefit applications to be processed, and in any case. it‘s often impossible for someone on the dole to raise money for a deposit.‘
The right-to-buy policy has also created major problems. as councils‘ housing stock
is steadily depleted and run down. with the best houses in the most desirable areas quickly snapped up. and housing departments unable. under Government spending restrictions. to build new houses or carry out repairs at a sufficient rate. ‘We have a policy commitment to offer homeless people housing ofequal quality to their previous home.‘ says Bill I lood. Glasgow District Council‘s Chief Housing Officer. ‘Fairly soon we are not going to be able to meet that commitment. because of the rate at which we‘re losing our best housing. The Government‘s policy just doesn‘t add up— they‘re taking away our ability to provide homes for people. but they‘re not taking
3 away our statutory obligation to rehouse the
Homelessness continues to be a growing problem - figures just released by the Scottish Office show a nationwide 14 per cent increase in applications to housing departments during 1990—91 . and that excludes large numbers ofpeople. particularly young single people. who won‘t bother to apply to councils since priority is given to families. Lesley Johnston reckons you can ‘safely triple‘ the figures of3240 for Edinburgh and 7592 for Glasgow. Bill Hood agrees that the true levels are considerably higher than the officials statistics suggest. Meanwhile the Government is gearing up for another council house sales drive. and the impact ofcommunity care policies. due to be fully in place by next year. is already beginning to be felt. It‘ll get worse before it gets better. (Sue Wilson)
lN'l'ERNA'l'IONALfeS ti val
16th AUGUST - 5 Lb SEPTEMBER
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“The Lia’s- 16July i992 7