Monthly Archives: January 2017

Tackling the national crisis of rough sleeping and homelessness

Cllr Sharon ThompsonBirmingham City Council’s ambassador for homelessness and tackling rough sleeping, Cllr Sharon Thompson, writes about rough sleeping

Last week’s news about the country’s latest figures for rough sleeping will have been no surprise to anyone.  Visit any city these days and you will see people huddled in shop doorways, subways and flyovers.  We know homelessness is on the increase and we know more and more people are sleeping rough too.  We have a national crisis.

In Birmingham our annual snapshot for the government involved 50 staff, volunteers and local councillors from all parties one cold night in November.  We worked through the night and across the city to count people sleeping rough and offer support.  We worked through the night to make sure we were identifying rough sleepers and not the many more desperate people who gather to beg for food and money but who are not in fact rough sleepers.

Councils up and down the country did the same so that the government could get a good picture of how cities compared with each other and with themselves a year earlier.  Nationally this snapshot showed there had been a 16% increase on the previous year.  Locally the figure had increased from 36 in November 2015 to 55 in November 2016, a substantial jump but a figure that was still below the national average of 0.18 rough sleepers per thousand people.   A useful snap shot, but just a snapshot.

Our outreach workers know where rough sleepers are and the figures were not a surprise.  They know that since the count the festive period will have seen many more people out on the streets.

The rise in homelessness is partly down to austerity and the chronic shortage of housing in this country.  In Birmingham, the council run Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust is the biggest house builder in the Midlands.  BUT, even with the biggest house builder we still have a huge waiting list for social housing in the city and many landlords charge exorbitant rents for rooms such is the pressure.

Public sector cuts across the board are also a factor.  Pressures on our health services, particularly mental health and addiction programmes, mean people aren’t always getting the help that they need.  And cuts in benefits have added to financial pressures.  Too often things spiral out of control before people can get the help that they need.

So who becomes homeless?  And of those thousands that are homeless, who sleeps rough and why?

Everybody’s story is different but many are the same.  Family break up. Addiction to alcohol or drugs.  Unemployment.  No money.  Mental health problems.  Ex-offender.  Escaping domestic abuse.  No home.

During one of the TV interviews I gave last week, the reporter said – “55 rough sleepers.  That’s not much for a city this size.  Can’t you find space for them all?”

I wish it was that simple.  The truth is that we have enough space for all our rough sleepers and our daily outreach staff work hard to encourage them to use both our accommodation and our specialist services.

We have hostel beds, a drop-in welfare service and drop-in food service.  We have additional cold weather provision and specialist health services.  Our outreach staff work with voluntary groups, the police and business wardens across the city to break down barriers and encourage rough sleepers to take up our beds and services.  But 44% of our rough sleepers have mental health problems and 74% of our rough sleepers have substance addictions, so it’s not just a question of a bed and some food.  It’s a big commitment for someone already living a chaotic life on the streets to join a programme to help their addiction.

Some people take up an offer of support straight away.  Others need many months of conversations and cups of tea to build up enough trust to take the first step away from what has become their home and their community.  And the longer people sleep rough, the harder it often becomes.  What starts off as unbearable can too often become a way of life.

That’s why I’m pleased we’ve received a £400k new rough sleeper’s grant with our partners in Solihull which will help us to assess and support people in those first days of sleeping rough and why I welcomed the £1.7m homelessness prevention trailblazer grant which we can use to address some of the reasons why people become homeless in the first place.

It’s also why the budget proposals to save £10m from the supporting people budget of £24m over the next two years will still mean that £6m is set aside for homelessness in 2017/18.

But as well as safeguarding budgets and applying for new grants, we also need to listen to rough sleepers and recognise when there are barriers and what we can do to adapt our services to make it easier for people to accept them.

With increasing numbers of rough sleeper couples, we’ve started to provide couple spaces since November.

We’ve also known for some time that many rough sleepers have dog companions.  Unfortunately, with the exception of one hostel in the city, most places have found it difficult to accommodate dogs and faced with a choice of abandoning their friend or getting a bed, many rough sleepers have understandably opted to stay on the streets.  In October that changed.  I am really pleased to say that one of our providers has been able to provide space for rough sleepers and their dogs, and that it has gone so well they are going to expand their dog spaces.  That’s a real breakthrough and shows that we are listening to rough sleepers in the same way that we should listen to all our citizens.

Councillors across all parties have also been running special advice bureaux for homeless people across the city.  This is also a real step forward and will ensure we talk to people who are too easily ignored and disenfranchised.

So what’s next?  We will do our own count again in the Spring and we will keep talking with the voluntary groups and the service providers we commission to find out what is changing and what is needed.  We will also keep listening to rough sleepers.

I’d also like you to do these three things –

  • If you see someone sleeping rough, contact Streetlink  0300 500 0914 /  http://www.streetlink.org.uk/   @Tell_StreetLink  who will contact our team with full details so that specialist outreach workers can assess and offer support
  • Give money to registered charities rather than to people direct
  • Contact me if you have any ideas and suggestions

Cities plan for industrial success in the home of Joseph Chamberlain

Joseph ChamberlainThe Core Cities group of leading UK councils will meet in Birmingham’s Highbury Hall, the ancestral home of Joseph Chamberlain, for an ‘industrial strategy summit’ tomorrow. 

The leaders of the UK’s largest cities are gathering in Birmingham to discuss hugely important economic and social issues at a time when city regions have never been better placed to play a major role in solving many of the problems facing Britain.

The Core Cities group – Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield – represent the UK’s largest city economies outside London. They are the economic drivers of the nation.

It is, I think, highly significant that local government’s biggest players have decided to hold a two-day meeting at Highbury Hall, the ancestral home of Joseph Chamberlain, one of Birmingham and Britain’s greatest Victorian municipal leaders.

The symbolism of this could hardly be greater. Chamberlain, as a successful businessman, instinctively realised that city economies cannot grow without social reform. Decent housing, good public health, workforce skills – all of these things are the essential ingredients for economic prosperity.

Investing in the people of our cities and their public services is as important as investing in the physical infrastructure, and that’s as true now as it was in 1873 when Chamberlain first became mayor of Birmingham.
Joe Chamberlain was the father of inclusive economic growth. He realised that big social reform makes economic and business sense because without a healthy and happy workforce you have an under-performing economy.

He did big, bold things and recognised that the citizens of Birmingham could be the city economy’s greatest asset, by improving their lives and their conditions. He knew that was good business and good economics and made businesses grow.

Almost 150 years ago Chamberlain ran Birmingham as a radical and reforming mayor. Today, good local government is just as important, perhaps even more so, to the lives of citizens.

The ten Core Cities urban areas deliver 28 per cent of the combined economic output of England, Wales and Scotland and are home to almost 19 million people, 30.7 per cent of the combined English, Welsh and Scottish population. The West Midlands economy is greater than that of Wales.

Core Cities is keen to work with the Government to tackle difficult issues, most notably trading arrangements in a post-Brexit world, the development of a new Industrial Strategy, and embedding inclusive economic growth in all we do to make sure Great Britain plc works for everyone, not just for a privileged few.

We want to find ways to increase social mobility and address the insecurity experienced by a growing section of the population that feels left behind by rapid global change. We know we have to find ways to reverse inequality between neighbourhoods as well as between individuals.

But this reform agenda cannot be pursued successfully without healthy city region economies.

It makes perfect sense for any Government to want city regions to do well because Britain’s future as a trading nation is tied irrevocably to the performance of the great cities. I for one look forward to responding to this week’s Government Green Paper on Industrial Strategy.

Strong cities will mean a strong global Britain in the post-Brexit world, just as they drove the nation’s wealth in the Victorian era of Chamberlain.

Throughout history cities have always played a vital role in the national and global economy, but in the past few years their importance has increased. The real growth is in the big cities – the places where people come together to innovate and invent new forms of wealth creation and the places where cultures mix and quality of life is enriched.

National economies rely on international flows of trade, labour and commerce between cities. Cities must therefore be empowered to compete on an even playing field with their more devolved continental counterparts – and that means giving UK cities greater powers and tax-raising functions.

To be successful the Government’s Industrial Strategy must recognise the link between social and economic policy in building long term relationships with industry, and delivering inclusive growth.

Big things are happening in Birmingham now and Chamberlain, I hope, would have approved of our ambition. In uncertain times, you can rest assured that Birmingham and the rest of the Core Cities won’t simply ‘adapt’ to the post-Brexit world – we’ll help shape it.

Here in Birmingham we’re not simply waiting for an Article 50 starting gun. I’ve recently led trade missions to Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Qatar and Chicago in an effort to sell Birmingham as a post-Brexit investment opportunity.
And that is something I’m sure Joseph Chamberlain would have approved of, and he would certainly have welcomed Theresa May’s commitment to working with all of our ‘great regional cities’.

Winston Churchill said of Joseph Chamberlain: He was the man who made the weather. He was a man who led where others followed.

And just over 100 years after the great man’s death, you can be sure that Britain’s cities are ready once again to lead from the front.

So my message to the Government is: give cities the powers and we’ll deliver – not just for Birmingham and the West Midlands, but for Britain.

New funding boost for Birmingham businesses

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Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy is appealing to Brummies to support a fundraising scheme that could generate £3 million to support local businesses

The council is joining forces with ART Business Loans (ART) and ThinCats peer lending platform to assist small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) in Birmingham that are unable to obtain any or all of the finance they need from high street banks.

ART and the city council will jointly underwrite loans of between £10,000 and £150,000.

The partnership has set a fund-raising target of £1 million a year over three years and is appealing to companies and individuals to invest in the scheme.  They can do that in the first instance by registering with ThinCats and taking advantage of a two week window to invest in ART Business Loans – from Thursday 26th January to Thursday 9th February – with a minimum investment of £1,000.  There is no upper limit.  ART will then lend the money raised to Birmingham businesses.

Councillor Clancy said: “This is a pioneering local investment opportunity and a chance for people to not only get a financial incentive in the form of a tax relief, but also a social return.  Small and medium sized enterprises are the life blood of the local economy and their ability to grow, create inclusive economic growth and preserve jobs impacts on everyone who lives and works in Birmingham.”

Investors will be able to claim Community Investment Tax Relief (CITR), which reduces investors’ tax bills by 5% of the loan value per annum over a five-year period.  This equates to a 6.25% return for standard rate Income Tax payers, 8.3% if you pay 40% tax and 9.1% for higher rate tax payers.  The Tax relief also applies to businesses who get Corporation Tax relief, providing an income equivalent to 5.8%.  To take full advantage of the tax relief the money must be left invested for five years.  At the end of that time it will be returned.

ART was founded in 1997 by its first chairman Sir Adrian Cadbury with the objective of providing finance to businesses and social enterprises that were unable to access loans from banks.  The average loan is £33,000, reflecting a gap in the business funding market for smaller loans.

One of ART’s best known beneficiaries is Birmingham Michelin-star chef Glynn Purnell who took out a loan to top up bank funding and open his first restaurant.

Based at Innovation Campus, Birmingham, ART has lent over £20 million since its launch in 1997, helping small firms to grow and create thousands of jobs. Loans are available for any purpose including supporting cash-flow.

Dr Steve Walker, Chief Executive of ART said: “There are many reasons why a viable business may not fit the banks’ lending criteria, including because the bank has already lent all it can.  We’re here to ensure that businesses can access the loan finance they need to support cash-flow, invest in new premises and equipment, survive and thrive.”

Kevin Caley, Founder and Chairman of ThinCats said: “Peer to peer finance solves two problems at once; it provides businesses with the funding they need to grow at a time when banks are reluctant to help and it also provides investors with a way to earn returns on their capital well above the rate of inflation. This unique partnership between ART Business Loans, Birmingham City Council and ThinCats highlights the way that investors from Birmingham can invest in the economy of their own City.”