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Cherwell investigates: homelessness in Oxford

New statistics show that despite the recession the welfare of the homeless in Oxford is improving. But will welfare cuts scupper progress?
Lara Bryan. Helena Ruff on Thursday 18th April 2013
Photograph: Lara Bryan

Figures from Oxford City Council’s latest Homelessness Strategy show that the rate of homelessness in the city is improving.

The statistics show that the number of households living in temporary accommodation has decreased by 74% in the past five years and that, due to a council and Broadway initiative called ‘No Second Night Out’, the number of rough sleepers has decreased from 27 in June 2012 to 12 in January of this year. National figures have increased by 29% in the last two years, according to the homelessness charity Crisis UK.

Labour Councillor Scott Seamons told Cherwell, “A common cause of homelessness is parental exclusion and we have done family mediation work in the past and are looking to extend this.

“Another large cause is breach or termination of tenancies and we have a private sector team that supports tenants and landlords when there is a risk of homelessness to prevent this. This team also works to find properties in the private rented sector to place households threatened with homelessness – the homechoice scheme.”

The homelessness issue is aggravated by a lack of affordable housing: Oxford has the highest house prices outside London.

The latest City Council strategy report also cites “poor discharge planning for ex-offenders” and mental health needs as being major factors preventing vulnerable people from finding a settled home, along with “addiction, negative behaviour, poor parenting and life skills”.

National homelessness charities have warned that the series of government welfare reforms will worsen an already fragile situation.

Leslie Morphy, Chief Executive of Crisis said, “Our poorest households face a bleak April as they struggle to budget for all these cuts coming at once”.

The cuts are likely to hit the poorest hardest. The ‘Bedroom Tax’ will mean that rent payers on housing benefits face a 14% decrease in the benefits they receive if they have a spare bedroom, and 25% if they have two or more.

Paul Roberts, Business Development Manager at Aspire Oxford, a charity which works to put vulnerably housed people back in employment, said of the tax. “There is a real housing shortage in Oxford and if people can’t find smaller houses to move into, what do they do?”

Crisis predicts households will sustain average losses of £14 a week from the Bedroom Tax, and £93 per week from the overall benefit cap.

According to Councillor for Housing, Scott Seamons, the government will also cut the Oxford Council’s £1 million Preventing Homelessness Grant.

Seamons maintained “We have made the political decision to continue to protect the poorest in our community and those in most need. For instance with the 10% cut in the council tax benefit we receive, we have chosen to swallow this cut and not pass it on to the recipients of council tax benefit.”

A spokesperson for O’Hanlon House, a housing shelter on Luther Street in Oxford, commented, “Welfare cuts will have a massive effect. There will be more visible homelessness on the streets in years to come.”

Roberts explained that Aspire have responded to the economic pressures by becoming more businesslike: “Traditional sources of funding are less available. We have to transform the way we present ourselves.”

He continued, “You have to be optimistic, there is no alternative.”

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