When the People of Leicester Told the Council That Their Plans to Close Border House Were Dangerous

Border House

Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and his daughter, Elly Cutkelvin, who is the Assistant Mayor for Housing and Education, are currently in the process of trying to close down one of the Council’s two remaining homelessness hostels, Border House. (For more on this proposed closure, see “Leicester’s homelessness services are under attack again!”)

But as you might have guessed, serious issues have already been raised about the City Mayor’s proposed ‘modernisation’ program. And what better place to look for the content of such criticisms than in the feedback contained within the Council’s homelessness consultation that they dutifully carried out some years ago in November/December 2017.

Here the relevant (and very loaded) proposal posed by the Council during their consultation on the future of Border House was this:

“Transition over the life of the [Council’s homelessness] strategy to reduce by half temporary accommodation by increased relief of homelessness through arranging settled private /social lettings. Ensuring all temporary accommodation offered for families is self-contained.” (Proposal 3)

For obvious reasons many participants in the consultation were not impressed by the Council’s proposal, and the majority of the people who left longer comments in response to this statement didn’t seem particularly sold on the Council’s proposed cut.

So, to help clarify such matters, here follows some of the critical comments which challenged the Council’s proposal to close Border House. To start off, one person hit the nail on the head when they wrote:

“Mmm… this is about cutting the service to meet budget projections rather than meeting the needs of families. It is a VERY dangerous strategy to rely on the use of PRS [private rental sector] accommodation, particularly in light of the roll out of Universal Credit. You will be aware that Housing Options are struggling to find landlords to accept families on benefits so I don’t see where you are going to source these properties from. There are also very poor properties out there in terms of quality which only adds to the complex issues these families will have. This is a very unimaginative solution to a serious and increasing issue!”

Another individual reiterated this point, noting:

“The private rented sector is known for not being considerate regarding families in receipt of welfare benefits. Relying on this sector is a VERY dangerous move and partially moving a public duty into a privatised area, which is not recommended.”

With Tory funding cuts clearly informing the Council’s homelessness strategy another person wrote:

“It all boils down to money and not people! If there was money [in] the pot then this would not even be discussed. Hit the most vulnerable who don’t have a voice and the council hope will just disappear as they make to many hoops to jump though to get help.”

This was repeated by another consultee:

“The move away from 24/7 [support for residents] appears more to do with budget cuts, rather than an analysis of requirements.”

Again, another comment (submitted on behalf of an unnamed group) suggested:

“Whilst supporting the aim of settled private and social lettings for families, we are concerned that there isn’t the housing stock available particularly in the PRS sector where landlords are increasingly reluctant to accommodate anyone on Universal Credit whilst rent is paid direct to tenants, also given a large reason for family homelessness is ending of a tenancy from PRS we’re not confident that this proposal will be achievable.”

In the light of the growing homelessness problems facing everyone under the Tories, another respondent made it clear that they were…

“…concerned if you reduce temporary accommodation and we have an increase in support where will they go.”

This point was highlighted by another concerned individual who added:

“…I believe Universal credit will increase the number of units required due to the loss of homes through payment delays impacting on rent arrears even with the budget amendments. I believe this proposal is short-sighted.”

Another wrote that there would still be the…

“…need to have some family emergency accommodation to support families through the transition into somewhere permanent. Families need to be taken out of crisis and given some time to think before they need to choose where to live permanently.”

That is not to say that people who responded to the consultation did not believe that the homeless should not be given self-contained units where possible. Thus, another person explained:

“I understand the theory around reducing temporary bed spaces for families and a move into permanent accommodation is obviously always a positive thing. However I do have concerns as a mental health nurse within the homeless mental health service that people will play down or deny any extra support that they may need to gain access to permanent accommodation quicker. Hostel and temporary accommodation although not ideal provides an opportunity to identify support needs (around mental health) by support staff and for service users to access our team which can help to maintain successful tenancies.”

Another consultee warned that the Council’s proposed cut was a “disaster waiting to happen” noting that “Removing the 24 hr cover from a family hostel is a frightening proposal” which could leave “the door open to an increase of violence, grooming, and possible sexual exploitation.” Similar concerns were voiced when another respondent pointed out:

“If there are fewer beds available at Border house, fewer support needs will be identified amongst the homeless families population because they will not get the extended assessment and support available from staff at BH [Border House] and FSS [Family Support Services] which allows families to feel safe enough to share with them. It is sometimes only through close observation by these services that issues are identified (abuse / Domestic violence / MH issues). At other times it is only when HMHS get involved with a family (following referral by BH / FSS) that the extent of their support needs are identified due to trust issues regarding fear of disclosure affecting custody of children etc…”

Border House might not be perfect. It is certainly old and run-down. But instead of closing one of our city’s much needed hostels, why doesn’t the Council simply renovate it? Also, given the growing nature of the homelessness problem in Britain and in Leicester, why doesn’t the Council, instead of proposing to cut staff levels and service provision, do the opposite, and commit to spending more resources on funding the services that to aid the homeless?

Labour more than ever need to differentiate themselves from the Tories.

In order to do this the Labour Party needs to be seen to be actively fighting against the capitalist profiteers and their Tory cutters; and Leicester needs Labour councillors who are willing to put the needs of the people before the demands of big business so they can help lead a fightback against the Tories. As part of such a campaign, socialist councillors can refuse to oversee any more cuts in our city, and demand that the Tories give back the hundreds of millions of pounds that they have stolen from Leicester over the last few years.

Now that is the type of campaign that I will look forward to getting involved in!

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