Prisons and probation: making a reality of rehabilitation (II)
Housing has become a social justice issue.
United Nations Special Rapporteur, Leilani Farha, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva last month that: “Housing has lost its social function and is seen instead as a vehicle for wealth and asset growth. It has become a financial commodity, robbed of its connection to community, dignity and the idea of home.”
With the publication of the Housing White Paper this year the Government is recognising that the current housing market in England is broken.
The impact is clear for all to see.
Homelessness is spreading across all areas of the country as councils spend £2m a day to house vulnerable people. Housing associations currently house less than 20 per cent of tenants who have been homeless. Private sector rents are rising above household incomes with high deposits and reference requirements. It is a sector used by many more people that cannot afford to buy their own home.
This means the competition for housing is severe.
We know that prisoners with no home to go to upon release face multiple barriers to access housing:
- Single men are not deemed to be in priority need for council housing
- Offending can be seen as a reason to class someone as unsuitable to be a social housing tenant
- Private landlords will often not accept ex-offenders or those on benefits
Even the best resettlement and advice officer will struggle to overcome these systemic problems.
There are two ways in which we can make a step change to improve the prospects of prisoners with no fixed abode. First, nationally we need to increase the supply of new homes – national output has slowed to a 24-year low. In the short term, the criminal justice sector must therefore be prepared to use its assets, resources, financial capacity and partnerships to secure more housing that can be accessed by offenders. We know that having a place to call home has a major impact upon offenders trying to build a life without crime. Investment in housing is an investment in reducing re-offending rates.
Secondly, we must influence key players within the current housing system to reduce the barriers that offenders face. Offenders must be considered fairly for housing and we must identify when this is not happening and work for change. For example housing decision-makers should be asked to quantify and consider the specific risks that they believe makes an offender unsuitable to be a tenant. We have legislation to give offenders a fair chance at employment and our Ban the Box campaign promotes a risk-based approach. It is about time we adopted such a measure for those in need of housing.