Homeless people with complex needs are being let down by the government’s work programme
One size doesn’t fit all
According to the government’s rough sleeping strategy, solving homelessness is ‘not just about providing homes’ - and Department for Work and Pensions’ Stephen Hall wrote recently in a Homeless Link magazine: ‘Homeless claimants have complex needs… we must not let them down’.
This positive sound bite echoes what homelessness services have been saying for years and creating jobs is one of the right solutions. But is the work programme a fit vehicle for delivering that transformation in people’s lives?
When it quit as the work programme’s sole homelessness contractor last month, SHP highlighted some issues, including inadequate resources and a lack of understanding of the amount of leg-work required to help people with high support needs into employment. Other services have questioned the relevance of a national programme when the homelessness sector already has many proven employment projects.
For people with multiple complex problems to overcome, the work programme can be a maze. They can be referred to a programme for disadvantaged groups. But reports from our members indicate that often these people’s needs aren’t identified and are they are referred to mainstream programmes. The conditions imposed often take no account of circumstances, leaving people parked in the system with little or no support to find work.
Of course the work programme was never designed to transform lives. It’s about mass employment, not recovery. But if we don’t see a shift in mindset that leads to genuine job opportunities, the people who most need help will be excluded.
The system needs to consider a person’s circumstances when planning mandatory activities. It needs supportive rather than punitive responses if they can’t achieve them. People must be reassessed quickly by Jobcentre Plus if they require more intensive support. There must be a minimum service offer from contractors to ensure people aren’t forgotten.
In short, we need a customised model. There’s already one for prison leavers, so why not for people with complex needs or who have experienced homelessness?
Homeless Link is surveying homelessness organisations to learn more about the experiences of their clients on the work programme, and journeys they will need to make to break the cycle of homelessness. We’d like to hear from organisations that can share their experiences of the programme in our survey. We’ll publish our findings in June.
The DWP says it intends to not let homeless people down. If that’s true, the short journey by most into employment can’t be at the expense of those with furthest to go.
Paul Anders is employment manager at Homeless Link