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Families borrowing to buy food a week into UK lockdown

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Food Foundation warns of crisis as YouGov poll reports 1.5m people worrying about hunger

Millions of British people are already struggling to get the food they need and are falling into debt because of the coronavirus pandemic, a survey carried out this week suggests.

The Food Foundation, which commissioned the YouGov poll, said the outbreak would lead rapidly to a hunger crisis unless the government acted immediately to get food aid and money to the most vulnerable and isolated people.

More than 1.5 million adults in Britain say they cannot obtain enough food. Half of the YouGov poll sample reported that they were self-isolating, and 53% of NHS workers were worried about getting food.

Half of parents on low incomes with children eligible for free school meals said they had not yet received any substitute meals to keep their children fed, despite government promises to provide food vouchers or parcels. Around 830,000 children are therefore likely to be going without daily sustenance.

Of those surveyed, 12% – representative of 6.1 million adults – said they were struggling to follow the government order to stay at home because they had to keep earning to survive.

The scale of financial and food insecurity is revealed by the numbers reporting that they had already had to borrow money to survive, just a week into the lockdown. Of those surveyed, 6% had taken out personal loans. Households with children were two and a half times more likely to have borrowed than those without.

On 21 March the government instructed people at greater risk of Covid-19 to stay in their homes and self-isolate for 12 weeks. It said it would contact 1.5 million people in this category and set up a system with local authorities, voluntary organisations and business to deliver food parcels to the homes of those who lacked family support.

Military planners have been assigned to work with councils, but the Guardian understands that the scheme is not yet running and will take a few weeks to scale up to supplying food to 400,000 people. The Food Foundation has calculated that more than twice that number – 860,000 people who fall into the medically vulnerable category – were suffering from food insecurity even before the crisis.

Anna Taylor, director of the Food Foundation, said the problem could not be solved by the voluntary sector alone and called on the government to coordinate emergency food aid immediately. “Our poll results suggest people are already going hungry. There are at least five government departments which have responsibility for aspects of the food response,” she said.

“We need a food aid task force, led by a single minister, to conduct a comprehensive assessment of need and coordinate across government, with local authorities, businesses and charities to deliver the right package of food and financial assistance. We cannot afford to delay.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is responsible for overseeing emergency planning around food; the Department for Education is responsible for action on free school meals; the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is negotiating with the food industry over supplies to food banks; and the Department for Work and Pensions has responsibility for getting money through universal credit to those who have lost work and cannot afford to eat.

Domestic abuse was bound to rise during the coronavirus crisis.

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Ministers must quickly start to put out public health advice to tackle the rising number of incidents.

“The incidences of call outs for domestic abuse are going up.” These were the words said to me by West Midlands Police on this morning’s weekly multi-agency conference call.

I knew it would happen. Isolation at home, the closing of schools, the inability to escape to work, the tension of people thrown together. How could domestic abuse not increase? It was inevitable.

Evidence from China shows a threefold increase in call outs during the period of isolation to domestic abuse services. Bear in mind already before Covid-19, 60% of women and children in England and Wales who presented needing a space in refuge were turned away. How on earth will they cope with a possible three-fold increase? Many of us in the sector are working on freeing up hotels for this purpose, but we have no idea if it will be enough.

It is not just the need for safe refuge beds that throws up concerns for those of us trying to support victims of domestic abuse. Already I have seen cases of perpetrators weaponizing the rules on quarantine timeframes to breach their contact orders.

Non abusive parents, usually the mother, told by the family courts that their children must see both parents, unsure of how the courts will react if they don’t allow their children to attend contact because they are self-isolating. The Government departments have had a lot on, but the guidance has been woeful to anyone outside of just a regularised 2.4 children happy household.

Charities dealing with this crisis have had to really shout to be heard, and myself and other colleagues had to push for domestic and sexual abuse support workers to be included in the list of key workers. While we won that war, the Government still have not updated the guidance and so many domestic abuse staff – vital in keeping people safe – have been left begging to have their children be able to go to school.

For some, they will lose their lives not at the hands of a silent virus but instead at the hands of their family.

For all in the charity sector this crisis could not have come at a worse time. Not just because of depleting resources over years, but because it is going to cross over the financial year. For so many charities, especially small domestic abuse providers, this crisis is happening while they don’t know if they have the money from local councils, government departments and other funders after early April. This happens every year as charities live hand to mouth but now it means that a vital lifeline is in danger.

In Scotland they appear to have taken much quicker and decisive action in giving out funds to voluntary sector groups vital in the fightback, but in England many refuge and community support providers have no idea how they are going to fund the regular services, let alone an increase. The Government could easily solve this today, but instead I am left putting out pleas for crowdfunding, such as for a brilliant local refuge in Coventry which has saved the lives of many women. I have heard of some councils still expecting charities to be bidding for contracts for their service throughout this time of crisis – this is simply unacceptable.

The Government must quickly start to put out public health advice to prevent domestic abuse. We cannot stop those already perpetrating this brutal crime; but I have absolutely no doubt that for some this period of isolation – the economic stress, the children permanently under your feet – will lead some to perpetrate their first instance of domestic abuse. As much as we need to talk about how we ensure people keep good mental health in a time of isolation we need the government, broadcasters, and media outlets giving people strategies of de-escalation.

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Hostels like living in ‘petri dishes’ as temporary housing hit by coronavirus

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People living in temporary accommodation are facing an “unprecedented crisis’, charities warn

Hundreds of children in Merseyside who are currently in temporary accommodation face living in “petri dishes” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the coronavirus crisis worsens, hostels for homeless people are looking at an “unprecedented crisis” in trying to house people.

This could mean some of the most vulnerable members of society are unable to self-isolate, should they develop symptoms.

Latest figures available, from September 2019, show there were 460 families, including 366 children, being housed in temporary accommodation in Merseyside.

Fears grow for Liverpool’s homeless amid coronavirus pandemic

The number includes those being housed in B&Bs, hostels and other emergency housing – often with one family in a single room, sharing bathrooms and kitchens with other residents.

The 460 families living in emergency housing in Merseyside as of September 2019 is up from 311 the year before.

Nationally, there were 87,410 families living in temporary accommodation in September – up from 83,430.

The number includes 127,890 children, most of whom will not be able to go to school.

The government has offered £3.2 million in emergency support for rough sleepers during the outbreak, and homelessness hostel workers are now designated as key workers.

This means their children will continue to be cared for at school during the pandemic, and they will have access to public transport in the event of a full lockdown.

However, charities are expressing huge concerns that no extra cash has been offered to help people in temporary accommodation self-isolate should they need to.

Seyi Obakin, chief executive of youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, said: “We are facing an unprecedented homelessness crisis in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Caterer out of a job delivers meals to people isolated because of coronavirus

“The government has acted swiftly to provide measures for rough sleepers but has done nothing to support the thousands of people who live in hostel accommodation.

“Without urgent action the government risks turning homelessness hostels into petri dishes. This will leave some of the country’s most vulnerable people unable to follow the government’s own guidelines and self-isolate.”

Shelter have also called on the government to introduce emergency measures to help safeguard homeless families in shared and one-room temporary accommodation.

Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, said: “Thousands of families with children are in this situation, living in cramped emergency B&Bs and hostels.

“It can be more difficult for them to follow NHS isolation guidance when they are sharing kitchens and bathrooms with strangers, living in a single room or even sharing a bed.

“And we don’t know how children will cope being stuck in these conditions when schools close.

Britannia Hotels blames brutal coronavirus sackings on ‘admin error’

“We need to protect families already experiencing the trauma of homelessness from greater risk of coronavirus.

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Coronavirus: The rough sleepers who can’t self-isolate

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For more than 35 years, The People’s Kitchen in Newcastle has opened its doors to rough sleepers and vulnerable people.

Based in a former church, tables for up to 120 diners sit in-between floor-to-ceiling beams, with a professional kitchen at the back – once the heartbeat of the operation. But today it is all empty.

Instead, the charity’s dedicated volunteers serve hot soup, sandwiches, cakes and pastries from tables in the car park. In the evening, it is hot food from a catering van.

This has become the new reality as coronavirus cases rise across the UK, in an attempt to keep supplying food to the neediest while minimising the risk of spread.

Many soup kitchens in the local area – particularly church-run ones – have already closed.

The People’s Kitchen estimates it has lost up to 30% of its volunteer workforce, with all those over the age of 70 reluctantly asked to stay home.
One woman, Sophie – who says she spends her nights sleeping rough in a shop doorway – describes the service as her lifeline.

“I’m really scared,” she says. “Not many hostels are taking people in because of the virus, and I’ve got nowhere to stay this evening. No family I can turn to.

“I’d love to be put somewhere, anywhere – even a derelict building.
“If this place [The People’s Kitchen] gets closed down, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Sophie has been given baby wipes by the volunteers to help keep herself clean during the day, and is able to shower there too – although the service is limited amid increased cleaning.

She is being regularly supported by the charity’s welfare team, but says the outbreak is taking a toll on her mental health.

“I’m low to start with, and this is making it worse. I can’t sleep at the moment.

“The doctor has given me anti-depressants, but I don’t know what I’d do if the chemist was shut.”

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Third of homeless people seeking help from councils left on the streets

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Charities urge Chancellor to use Wednesday’s Budget to end homelessness, with councils lacking enough available affordable housing

More than a third of homeless people who approached their councils for help either ended up back on the streets or became rough sleepers, new research has revealed.

According to a new report from the homelessness charity, Crisis, 38% of people who approached their local authority for help either remained homeless or became homeless because councils do not have enough available affordable housing.

The report, based on 984 surveys and 89 in-depth interviews with people experiencing homelessness, provides the first real insight into how the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) is working in practice since it was introduced two years ago.

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Budget must boost funding for homelessness.

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Responding to a new report from the charity Crisis on the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act, Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ Executive Member for Housing & Planning, has urged the government to address unsustainable pressures on hard-pressed homelessness services.

“The government must use the Budget to boost funding for local homelessness services”, he said. “We’re also calling on ministers to support the measures desperately needed to prevent homelessness occurring in the first place – including restoring housing benefit to levels that will improve affordability and giving councils the powers we need to build social housing at significant scale.”

Lack of housing stopping councils from helping homeless people, charity warns

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A lack of affordable housing is forcing local authorities to leave people homeless, a homelessness charity has warned.
New research by Crisis has revealed that nearly four in 10 (38%) people who approached their council for help since the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) was introduced either remained homeless or became homeless because of a lack of affordable housing.

The charity found that more people today are getting access to the housing support they need, but warned that a dwindling housing supply and rising rents means councils have little to no housing available for more and more people.

The report, based on 984 surveys and 89 in-depth interviews with people experiencing homelessness, found that the only support councils were able to offer some of the interviewees was information on how to rent privately.

Several of those surveyed stated that this simply consisted of a list of potential landlords for them to contact, only to find they were unable to access these properties because their housing benefit would not cover the rent.

Crisis called on the Government to urgently invest in housing benefit so that it covers the cheapest third of rents and commit to building 90,000 social homes each year for the next 15 years.

‘It’s deeply distressing that, across England, councils are being forced to leave the people they are trying to help on the streets or drifting from sofa to sofa – all because they cannot find somewhere safe and affordable for them to live,’ said Crisis chief executive, Jon Sparkes.

‘The HRA has made some good progress in preventing people from becoming homeless, but it’s worrying to see that it’s being constrained by a chronic lack of housing and cuts to housing benefit.

‘The HRA can be at the heart of ending homelessness for good, as this report shows, but this is only possible if councils are properly resourced and have the tools, they need to help people leave homelessness behind for good.

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Lotus Sanctuary Women’s Day Event –

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In Celebration of International Women’s day 2020, Lotus Sanctuary hosted ‘Wolves Women’s Day’ – a day to empower women through shared learning, new connections and a celebration of all it means to be a woman. The day was packed with workshops, talks, live music, stalls and more, all of which were led by Women. We had a great turn out and we’re joined by the mayoress of Wolverhampton, Claire Darke.

The essence of the event was to capture Lotus’ slogan, “Empowered Women, Empowering Women”, something we feel the event did. The stalls, talks and workshops were all female run, again showcasing local women’s talents and successes.

All funds raised go to Lotus Sanctuary; a community interest company with the pure and simple of intention of housing and empowering vulnerable women suffering a range of complex issues. We offer long-term solutions to ladies with complex needs. Options for homeless women in the UK were severely limited, with the choice generally being between male dominated hostels, rife with drugs and exploitation or overcrowded refuges that exclude women with mental health or substance misuse issues.

At Lotus we do things differently. Our residents are housed in either self-contained flats and apartments or are housed with only one other person. This allows them to turn a house into a home and allows us to offer individualised holistic support. After we meet the crucial need of safe and secure accommodation our support is then structured around the resident’s core issues and needs, allowing residents to recover from the issues that led them to homelessness in the first place.

Labour’s shadow housing secretary, John Healey, has said the government is not doing enough.

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“The Conservatives are in denial about the scale of street homelessness, with new figures showing that the government’s own statistics are seriously misleading the public about the number of people sleeping rough.

“After 10 years of failure, the Conservatives should adopt Labour’s plan to end rough sleeping for good.”

UK’s official rough sleeping numbers ‘far lower than reality’

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Labour labels Whitehall data ‘unreliable undercount’ as local councils show numbers almost five times higher

The government has been accused of dramatically under-reporting the scale of rough sleeping following council data showing numbers almost five times higher than Whitehall estimates.

On the eve of the housing ministry’s annual snapshot of rough sleeping, which last year said that 4,677 people slept outside, the council data showed almost 25,000 people slept rough in 2019.

The figures were obtained directly from councils using the Freedom of Information Act. They relate to people sleeping rough at least once during the year. The government uses a different method, taking a snapshot count on one night.

On Wednesday the Labour party called for the UK Statistics Authority to launch an investigation into the accuracy of government data, which it said were “seriously misleading”.

The government’s snapshot for 2018 shows that there were 45 rough sleepers in Oxford. But over the whole of 2019 the local council said 430 people were recorded as sleeping rough at least once, according to the data gathered by the BBC. In Manchester the government’s figure was 123, while the council’s total was 679.

Boris Johnson, the prime minister, appeared to refer to the government’s own figures last month when he claimed the number of rough sleepers was “lower than any time in the last eight years”.

John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, said: “These figures expose the shameful scale of rough sleeping on our country’s streets. They also confirm that the government’s own published statistics are seriously misleading and an unreliable undercount of the number of people sleeping rough.”

But the government claimed it was completely untrue to say its figures were wrong. “Our figures are independently verified by Homeless Link – a leading homeless charity – and the UK Statistics Authority has said our method is the most comprehensive available,” said a spokesperson for the housing ministry. “The two figures aren’t comparable and it is factually inaccurate to suggest otherwise.”

The UKSA said this was “a very generous interpretation” of its view, which was that “the snap-shot methodology was limited” and was the most comprehensive approach “currently available in England”.

The BBC data showed places with the highest rates of rough sleeping, recorded as a proportion of the population; these were Westminster, in London, Hastings, in Sussex, Oxford, Nottingham, and Camden, in London.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive at the homelessness charity Crisis, said: “We still do not have a clear picture of how many people are forced to sleep on our streets throughout the year. The government’s own statistics watchdog has long called for a better way of recording rough sleeping in England. We agree … but ultimately we need to address the issues forcing people on to our streets in the first place, such as the chronic shortage in social housing and the fact that housing benefit doesn’t cover the cost of people’s rents.”

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