Why Border House Hostel Should Not Be Shut

Make no bones about it, Tory cuts are destroying people’s lives and have been for years. This is why it is so important that Labour-run Councils, like the one running the roost here in Leicester, should refuse to pass Tory cuts onto their constituents.

More so than in other areas, the lack of Labour resistance to Tory austerity is felt even more acutely for those individuals facing homelessness. Take for example the issue of the homelessness funding in Leicester. In 2013/14 the Council spent £7.3 million on helping the homeless, while year-on-year cuts — driven by Tory austerity — meant that by 2017/18 they were only spending £5.6 million a year on providing such vital services.

Over these vexatious years, Council workers, who were already pushed to the limits, obviously did their best to help the homeless despite budget cuts. So while in 2013/14 these workers helped 1,053 households find alternative accommodation as a homelessness prevention outcome, by 2016/17 the number of households these workers were assisting had more than doubled to 2,209. Indeed, the number of households successfully obtaining accommodation in hostels/HMO (Houses in multiple occupation) each year had also increased from 243 to a massive 1,136.

Although most homelessness stems from a combination of personal problems and money-grabbing landlords, in 2016/17 Leicester’s Labour Council evicted six households from their Council homes even though they recognised that their tenants suffered financially as a direct result of having to pay the Tories hated ‘bedroom tax’. Either way despite these shortcomings, the Council understood that our city’s growing population is in desperate need of more Council homes, and in the sane official report wrote that:

“An assessment of housing need undertaken in 2017 estimated Leicester had an overall annual need of 1,692 homes per year up to 2031 of which 786 homes a year should be affordable housing.”

We can however be thankful that with the refreshing (if limited) new socialist leadership of the Labour Party, Labour Councils up-and-down the country have finally committed themselves to building significant numbers of Council homes. But with the Tories regressive “Right to Buy” scheme still in effect, Leicester City Council (like other Labour Councils) has gradually seen their stock of Council homes dwindle, with approximately 400 Council homes being sold-off each and every year in Leicester.

The previous disinclination to build Council homes, combined with the toxic Right to Buy scheme, meant that as of March 2019 there were still 6,178 households on Leicester City Council’s housing register. The growing impoverishment of the majority of our city’s residents being further compounded by the introduction of the Tories misnamed “Homelessness Reduction Act” of 2017. This Act has had a devastating impact on social housing, and as one trade union branch (Unite Housing LE1111) put it:

“The extra responsibilities placed on local authorities come at a time of massive cuts; expressions of concern from ministers have to be seen in the context of policies that exacerbate the causes of the rises in homelessness and rough sleeping.”

The union report went on to highlight the extra pressures facing frontline staff, adding:

“Unite reps report high stress levels and unrealistic workloads among front line homelessness workers along with real hardship and housing need due to low pay. They also report that management in the sector increasingly adopt what they see as a commercial approach undercutting each other to win contracts at the expense of the service received by homeless people and are prepared to go along with unprofessional and even illegal practices – for example St Mungos collaboration with deportation of EU citizens, now found to be illegal. In this context it has never been more important for Unite and the Labour and trade union movement to fight for decent services and polices that address the causes of homelessness.”

In fact, St Mungos – a charity which has been tasked with helping relieve Britain’s homelessness crisis – are sadly replicating Tory attacks on the working-class by treating their own employees like dirt. As part of a national campaign that is still ongoing, and will likely lead to industrial action, Unite argue that St Mungos “has pushed ahead with changes that threaten jobs, working conditions and the quality of services to vulnerable rough sleepers.” In an open letter sent by Unite members to St Mungos board of directors they explain that the “heavy-handed and frankly bullying… style” of their management “is destroying morale.”

Within the context of such a government and charity driven hostile environment for homeless service provision, Leicester City Council recently reported that:

“People who are homeless or threatened with homelessness accounts for 21% (1283) of all households on the Housing Register. This has risen by 44% in the last 12 months and is mainly due to the implementation of the Homeless Reduction Act.”

This is why the Tories attacks on the working-class must be resisted and fought against; and Labour Councils must follow the example of the Unite members who are organising and fighting back against St Mungos. The Council can do this by refusing to cut any service and by launching a serious campaign to provide the necessary houses for everyone, including the homeless.

However, as I reported last year, Leicester City Council’s plans to address our city’s ongoing housing crisis aren’t ambitious enough by half. Thus in November 2019 the Leicester Mercury informed their readers that the Council aims “to create 1,500 new council homes by 2023.” (Of these 1,500 new homes 640 will be what the Council refer to as “Extra Care supported living spaces.”)* But considering the Council are currently losing more than 400 Council homes a year because of the Right to Buy scheme, this proposal for Leicester’s future is hardly radical.**

Hence considering that the Council have over 6,000 households on their Council home waiting list and in the next few years are only planning on creating slightly more Council homes than will be sold, it is extremely worrying that they are trying to close half of the hostel places that the Council currently run.

Certainly, Border House — the hostel that the Council plan to close — is definitely in need of massive repairs/renovations, and might even benefit from simply being completely rebuilt… why not if rebuilding it will improve service provision?

Of course, it would beneficial if everyone who did not require the type of intensive support that is available in a hostel could be housed in fully furnished houses elsewhere (with floating support), so why can’t Leicester have both? We are after all talking about our city’s most vulnerable residents, so why can’t the Council, at the very least, agree to use some of their reserves to increase their homelessness budget back to the level it was in the past — let’s say for arguments sake that they increase it back to the £7.3 million that it was in 2013/14. Then the Council could improve the services provided in their hostels and make a more substantial commitment to, at the bare minimum, creating 786 new Council homes each year.

The Council might revise its current slogan “homes not hostels” to “thousands of Council homes and amazing hostels!” Such a slogan would be in keeping with the national Labour Party’s actual manifesto commitments which included two sensible ideas which were to create…

  • A £600 million Modern Hostels Fund for good quality homeless accommodation with 5,000 additional bed spaces to take people off the streets and help them rebuild their lives; and to create
  • A £200 million Hostels Transformation Fund to turn existing hostels into places where homeless people can turn their lives around.

Save Border House 2020

Notes

* “Plans to spend £70 million on 400 new council homes are set to be approved next week…The £70 million scheme is part of the city council’s commitment to create 1,500 new council homes by 2023. It is in addition to the £36.3 million that has already been approved for building new homes and buying up properties to add to the city’s stock. A breakdown of the cash shows that £21 million will come from Right to Buy receipts – 30 per cent of the total, which is the maximum allowed by the Government. The remaining £49 million will be made up of a mixture of the council’s Housing Revenue Account and borrowing.” (“Hundreds of council homes to be built in Leicester if plan is approved,” Leicester Mercury, November 8, 2019.)

** What does make the proposal radical is that Leicester City Council is aiming to construct many of these new council homes on land that is currently owned by the local NHS Trust; land that arguably should not be sold off in the first place, and should instead be reserved for serving the health needs of the people of Leicester and Leicestershire. It has been reported that the Council might build 85 homes on 11 acres of NHS land (known as The Paddock) at Glenfield Hospital; and build 532 homes on NHS land on the current site of the General Hospital! (“The 83 Leicester sites where thousands of new homes could be built,” Leicester Mercury, February 24, 2020.)

In January 2020 the Council reported that there had been “a loss of over 1,275 [Council] properties in the last 3 years alone.” In February 2020 another Council report acknowledged: “The city council intends to deliver about 1,500 new affordable homes over the next four years, including developing sites to provide the estimated 640 additional Extra Care supported living spaces needed over the next 10 years.”

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