Branch Secretary : suz.muna.unite@gmail.com
  

Labour homelessness campaign launch

Rotten System

 

Branch members joined the crowd at the launch of the Labour Homelessness campaign last night.  We heard Owen Jones describe homelessness as a reminder of why capitalism is a rotten system.  

 

Owen emphasised that it is a disgrace that people sleep on the streets in one of the richest countries that has ever existed.  We were keen to take our fighting anti austerity message to the meeting and distributed a leaflet from the branch (see text below).

 

 

Labour homlessness campaign launch

 

Joe Glacken described his personal experiences and the positive practical work of ‘Streets Kitchen’ and amongst the other speakers Stephen Saxby, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for City of London and Westminster described the scale of rough sleeping in some of the richest areas of London and linked the crisis to financialisaton.  People in the shadow of Big Ben are being criminalised for sleeping on the streets. The meeting was chaired by Shaista Aziz and there were also speakers from Brighton Housing Coalition, Greater Manchester Housing Coalition and The Outside Project.  Kate Osamore MP also spoke.

 

Deportations

 

Unfortunately, there was no trade union speaker on the platform, but branch member and homelessness worker Jack Jeffrey was able to intervene briefly from the floor. He spoke of the experience of delivering services to central London rough sleepers and how many of the agencies have become commercialised entering in to a competitive race to the bottom compromising services. He outlined some of the responses that we have made as organised workers in the sector, for example, opposing the disgraceful cooperation with the Home Office in deportations which have now been found to be unlawful.

 

Jack told the meeting about some of the developing disputes with employers in the sector including at St Mungo's where the employer is keen to cut costs by using a higher proportion of lower paid less well trained workers and Centrepoint where managemnt are offering a real terms pay cut while executive pay is boosted.

 

Jack also outlined the brutal impact of cuts; local authority spending on single homelessness has halved since 2010.  He asked panellists to support Unites call for councils to stop cuts by setting balanced, legal ‘needs budgets’ and drawing on reserves. A subsequent speaker from the floor called for Labour councils to stand together in refusing to implement cuts and to launch a mass campaign including strikes and protests.

 

Complex

 

While expressing sympathy Kate Osamore opposed this approach saying that things have become very difficult for councillors over the last ten years and the situation was ‘more complex.’ Perhaps surprisingly, she outlined the problems that she felt would arise if a council failed to set a budget instead of the proposal raised – we are not aware that anyone is suggesting refusing to set a budget as a strategy. She also said that our suggestion would not work in a local authority which had no reserves. As we know however, there are no Labour councils without reserves. 

 

We hope to work with the new campaign in future. If you are a Unite housing branch member and you want to get involved in our campaigns on homelessness or other housing issues do contact a branch officer.

 

Paul Kershaw, Chair Unite housing workers (LE1111). 4th May 2019.

 

Text of our leaflet for the meeting:

 

 

We organise workers in housing associations and homelessness agencies defending both jobs and services against cuts and austerity. 

 

Rough sleeping emergency

 

The dramatic rise in rough sleeping is a shocking consequence of austerity.  We need a mass programme of council house building, tough rent control, and end to Universal Credit to start to resolve these problems.  That means booting out this rotten Tory government. Rough sleeping is not inevitable. A Labour government with radical policies could end this scourge.

 

Brutally slashed services

 

To add insult to injury services services for single homeless people and rough sleepers have been brutally slashed. Spending on single homeless people has more than halved since 2010 while rough sleeping has risen by at least 165% since 2010.  

 

Deaths of homeless people rose

 

No one should be surprised that deaths of homeless people have risen by 24% over the last four years. According to the GLA’s Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) quarterly report rough sleeping in London rose 31% compared to the same period last year.  This is an emergency.

 

Take a stand

 

Drastic cuts to 'drop in' provision and to the number of hostel beds make matters worse.  We call on councils to take a stand against cuts and welcome the stand of Labour Councillor Tolga Aramaz in Enfield who has taken a stand against all cuts.

 

No cuts

 

It is simply not adequate for Labour local authorities to pass the impact of Tory cuts on to the homeless with regret.  And worse, too many councils have used draconian laws to criminalise rough sleeping.  We support councils in seeking creative ways, including the use of reserves, to stop cuts to these vital services. We support legal ‘no cuts’ budgets. Reserves may be ‘for a rainy day’ but isn’t this a rainy day?

 

Homelessness agencies as employers

 

Unfortunately, some homelessness agencies which once had a clear social mission have increasingly become transmission belts for neoliberal polices; commercialised organisations competing for contracts in a race to the bottom.

 

Lack of concern

 

The same organisations that show a lack of real concern for their clients show a similar attitude to their employees.  Frontline workers for homelessness agencies don’t go in to the field to get rich but they deserve decent treatment.

 

We defend staff conditions and speak up for service users.  

 

Strike

 

Staff in St Mungo’s have a number of concerns including an attempt by management to deskill the workforce introducing more low paid workers. This was a key issue in the successful strike in St Mungo’s a few years ago. It should be noted this key factor in the strike, and now, is not the pay of existing staff but maintaining good services.  We only take strike action as a last resort.

 

Executive pay ‘not interesting’

 

Staff at Centrepoint are indignant at being offered a sub inflation pay increase when there are already too many cases of real hardship among the staff.  Meanwhile the organisation boasts of increasing surpluses – up 17% last year and 25% the year before - and growth. Meanwhile executives were paid an extra 6.47% last year.  Centrepoint bosses simply told us that executive pay was not ‘interesting.’

 

Deporting rough sleepers who were EU migrants

 

Homelessness agencies such as St Mungo’s asked outreach teams to work with the home office to deport EU migrants.

Rough sleepers who had engaged with agencies found themselves taken away to detention centres, sometimes for extended periods.  

 

Unite warned against unlawful deportation

 

Unite consistently warned that, as well as being unethical, these deportations were likely to prove to be unlawful. They also compromised the independence of outreach workers making it more difficult to gain the trust of ‘hard to reach’ groups and resulting in real health and safety concerns.

 

Views of Daily Mail readers

 

Our negotiators were told that it was important to win contracts and management refused to address our concerns. Apparently they had to  balance the ‘views of Daily Mail readers’ with Unite members in their workforce. That is no way to lead an agency working with some of the most vulnerable people in society.

 

Absence of moral compass

 

We welcome the High Court ruling which made clear that these deportations were unlawful. But questions must be asked about the governance of these agencies; the episode reveals a serious absence of moral compass. The leadership of participating agencies have not shown a disturbing lack of interest in acting as defenders of their client groups accept as a side effect of winning contracts.

 

We call on local authorities to work with us to ensure that homelessness agencies work in an ethical manner.  We commend the pioneering ethical employment agreement that Unite has signed with the Manchester City council.

 

Join us

 

Join the branch if you work for a housing agency, but we also want to work with you if you want to campaign for social housing and decent provision.

 

Contact us at http://www.housingworkers.org.uk

 

We work with SHAC - a network of housing association and Coop residents and workers. We seek to help tenants and residents organise – particularly important as landlords have moved away from support for tenant organisation.

 

Visit SHAC at https://shaction.org

 

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