Branch Secretary :

TheGuardian: Why isnt homelessness election priority? A response

"Britain has a horrific homelessness crisis. Why isn't it an election priority?"


This is the headline for an article in todays Guardian which deals critically with the role of homelessness agencies and with the need to put the issue on the map during the election. The article includes reference to St Mungos and Connections.


Below is a letter in response which has been sent to The Guardian.


End to austerity, mass programme of council house building, reverse cuts to homelessness services



The question posed in the headline to your article "Britain has a horrific homelessness crisis. Why isn't it an election priority?" could have been written by many homelessness workers.


St Mungo’s and Connections


The article provokes mixed feelings among members of Unite LE1111 who work in homelessness charities such as St Mungo’s and Connections. They welcome your call for rough sleeping and homelessness to be on the election agenda; they feel frustration at the impact of austerity and, unfortunately, the role of many 'leaders' of the homelessness sector.


We desperately need an end to austerity, a mass programme of council house building and an end to criminalising the homeless as you suggest.


Heart breaking


We agree with the call that you mention for an investigation into the death of every rough sleeper and we welcome Jeremy Corbyn’s call for rough sleeping to be mentioned in death certificates.


It would not be right to go into detail here about individual cases you raise but poorly funded services inevitably act as gatekeeper to scarce resources.  It makes life for front line staff still more tough that they regularly make heart breaking decisions.  For the rough sleepers the impact of lack of resources is much more tough of course.


Cuts to homelessness services


As an immediate step we need to reverse the cuts to spending on homelessness services – the scandal of increased rough sleeping has been accompanied by scandalous cuts to services working with rough sleepers.


Members completely understand your human response, “When we’ve not been screaming with rage, we’ve been phoning each other in the middle of the night in tears. It’s hard to get these stories – these people – out of your head. We wake up with them, go to sleep with them and often dream about them.”




This is what front-line homelessness workers face as their daily work experience. And they face running services with inadequate funding and increasingly inappropriate senior management.  Sometimes we want to scream about the government; sometimes we want to scream about our own senior management.


Through their union, staff repeatedly warned St Mungo’s that the effect of collaborating with Home Office deportations would be to undermine trust with rough sleepers and that the deportations would be likely to be found to be unlawful. 


Lack of ethical compass


The lack of an acknowledgement that management were warned is just one weakness in the management report which cannot be seen as a credible response by St Mungo’s bosses. Certainly, there is no reason to have confidence that there is any serious change in culture underway at the top of the organisation.


Management's response revealed a lack of ethical compass arguing that it was important to win contracts and that they were somehow between us and the Daily Mail.


No mention of warnings


St Mungo’s have produced an inadequate internal report which fails to make any mention the warnings from their staff. The Chief Executive, Howard Sinclair, has announced he is stepping down although he does not cite this scandal as a reason, and he plans to remain in the organisation for an extended period.


While in the past these agencies saw their role, in part, as acting as tribunes for rough sleepers, speaking out about what services are needed they now tend to act as competitive contractors. The departing St Mungo’s CEO spoke of how it would be “exciting” to work with private sector contractors such as Serco.




This is the inappropriate culture that they seek to instil in organisations working with the homeless. St Mungo’s are currently moving to introduce a higher proportion of low paid and under trained staff, resisted by the union.


They also have a draconian disciplinary record; staff wanting to challenge unethical work fear for their jobs. They have recently been found to have victimised a female worker who challenged unequal pay.


End 'payment by results' funding


In addition to proper funding and an end to ‘payment by results’ funding, local authorities need to insist on a fundamental review of the governance of homelessness agencies to ensure they have an appropriate culture.


As a minimum they must ensure that management engages seriously with staff unions so that frontline staff have a voice.


Jeremy Corbyn


Only Labour takes up these issues and offers a serious hope for an end to austerity. That wasn’t always so clear, before Jeremy Corbyn was elected let’s recall, Labour actually abstained on benefit cuts – one of the key causes of the rise in homelessness.


But we would welcome the horror of homelessness being foregrounded in the election campaign. It serves to highlight the bankruptcy of UK housing policy for decades.


Paul Kershaw, Chair Unite Housing workers LE1111 branch.


19 November 2019

Comments :

Lots of excellent points raised here and questions for the senior managers of many charities across the sector. If charities cannot go out and bat for the homeless then who will? We must hold our boards and CEOs to account.

By Alan J Giddings on 2019-11-19 19:34:38


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