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The Crisis Blog: conversations on matters related to homelessness.

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Alice Ashworth @ashworthalice Senior Policy Officer

It’s great we’re talking about work and health – but let’s not forget housing 

Last week we responded to the Government’s long-anticipated Green Paper on Work, Health and Disability. In our response we welcomed the Government’s direction of travel on better joining up health and employment support services to help people with health conditions and disabilities into work. But we need to see housing and homelessness addressed too.

The Government admits that the current system doesn’t offer the right kind of support to help people overcome health-related barriers to seeking or sustaining work. This is welcome. Many homeless people suffer from poor mental or physical health. So any improvements to the employment support offer for disabled people will benefit a lot of the people we work with.

But we made the case that the system must also recognise the impact of homelessness on someone’s ability to look for or hold down a job. The Government will never successfully support people with multiple, inter-locking needs into work without providing meaningful help to address these issues.

We also argued that we need to see a more supportive approach that plays to people’s strengths while respecting and understanding their barriers to work. People respond much better if they are given space and encouragement to find their own way. This is especially the case for those experiencing poor mental health, who may need positive encouragement to overcome low self-esteem and improve confidence.

This is what we do in our own services. Our job coaches put each individual at the centre of the process and tailor support according to their particular strengths and needs. Coaches achieve this by developing trust and rapport with claimants over time. A recent independent evaluation of our service found that Crisis has been directly responsible for helping considerable numbers of homeless people into paid work, volunteering, further and higher education and training.

Just last week, our Skylight centre in Newcastle delivered GOALS, a motivational training course designed to increase self-esteem and empower people to make positive life and work changes for themselves. One of the seven participants is a young man who has slept rough and lived in hostels on and off for several years, and has never held down a paid job. During his lunch break on the second day of the course he used his new found confidence and skills to apply for a job, and secured an interview. He later gave feedback to his coach to say ‘thank you for not giving up on me.’

We want to see more of these sorts of motivational techniques being used by Jobcentre Plus and the successor programmes to the Work Programme. These sorts of techniques can help to encourage people to talk about hidden needs that they may not otherwise feel comfortable talking about. If delivered in the right way, this can include disclosure about being homeless.

Instead, we’re seeing a ‘tick box’ approach that largely focuses on checking up on claimants and sanctioning them far too readily. As highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee this week, there is robust evidence showing that sanctions are causing homelessness – but very little evidence that sanctions are encouraging people into stable jobs. Given these existing concerns, we made clear in our response to the Green Paper that we would strongly oppose any extension of the conditionality and sanctions regime to people with more long-term health conditions.

We want to see the Government do more to help homeless jobseekers find work – whatever their state of health. For those who can work, it’s the best way of leaving homelessness behind for good. We’ve already done the hard work and developed a model that’s proven to work. There is much to learn from what we’ve achieved. It’s now up to the Government to take up this challenge.