At the sharp end of housing crisis
There’s been much debate in the past week about the sharp rise in the number of people in housing difficulty in the city and the impact of this on our budget.
Peterborough is no different to other cities, but as one of the fastest growing cities in the country we are certainly at the sharp end.
The issue we have is that demand for social housing is far higher than supply and as a result we are having to place more people who require temporary accommodation in bed and breakfasts, and in extreme circumstances, budget hotels.
To put it into perspective, an average of 60 to 90 people per month came to us as homeless in 2012 - this rose to 150 in August.
Changes to the benefits system have had an impact on many families, in particular the changes to housing benefits which see people who are under-occupying their properties penalised.
The introduction of universal credit, which involves individuals being given their benefits directly, has led to fewer private landlords accepting people on housing benefits.
This is not just my opinion, charity Crisis says homelessness is on the rise nationally due to a shortage of housing, the ongoing effects of the economic recession and reforms and cuts to housing benefit.
Shelter hit the nail on the head when it said that councils are stuck between a rock and a hard place, battling with stripped back budgets, an overwhelming number of homeless families and a drastic shortage of homes.
I have no doubt that the changes introduced nationally were well meant, however we and many other councils are now having to manage the unintended consequences.
But it matters not who is to blame, the onus is now on us to make sure we can support those we have a duty to whilst balancing our budget.
We keep a close eye on our finances throughout the year so that we know where the pressures are and as a result we have been able to find a solution that should help bring our budget back into the black.
We will be using 74 properties on St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell, owned by social housing provider Stef and Philips Limited, as temporary accommodation.
We’ll be paying a nightly charge for use of the accommodation, totalling £966,337 each year.
If we were to accommodate the same number of households in B&Bs it would cost us in the region of £2.4million so the saving is clear to see.
Making use of these homes will give us greater capacity to meet the demands of people needing our support and redu- ce our spend on more expensive accommodation.
More importantly it will offer a better standard of accommodation for people who need our help, providing them with a home with a front door.
This is just one example of the many ways we are working more imaginatively to be able to support our most vulnerable residents with an ever reducing budget.
Only this week, my cabinet colleagues and I approved a new partnership with The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT), the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity and agency, which will secure fostering and adoption services for the long term.
Not only will this save the council in the region of £1 million when it’s up and running, it will also enable us to recruit and retain more local foster carers.
It’s a tough task meeting the needs of more and more people with less money, but we will continue to think innovatively to ensure we can support those residents needing our help the most.
Iwas humbled last week to attend a celebration evening for the city’s foster carers. It’s always a great opportunity to say a big thank you to them for all their hard work and dedication. I spoke to two couples who between them have fostered more than 1,000 children over 40 years!
There’s always a need to attract more people interested in fostering.
If you want to find out more there’s an event at the Town Hall tonight between 6pm and 8pm or you can visit www.peterboroughfostering.co.uk
The front page of last week’s Peterborough Telegraph