View previous topic | View next topic

The Big Society

Page 1 of 2
Goto page 1, 2  Next

798415.  Mon Mar 21, 2011 9:17 am Reply with quote

Most of us have heard of this idea, some of us may even think we understand it.

I have no problems with promoting big society, I think it already exists, my only cnocerns which I raised in the past is that it could be seen as a way of simply removing funding for certain services.

So in light of the Big Society, I find the recent draft byelaw by Westminster Council particularly disturbing.

I'll quote from the draft:

3(1) No person shall lie down or sleep in or on any public place.
3(2) No person shall at any time deposit any materials used or intended to be used as bedding in or on any public place.

4(1) No person shall distribute any free refreshment in or on any public place.
4(2) No person shall knowingly permit any person to distribute any free refreshment in or on any public place.

Exemptions include:

5(c) if the distribution is of samples of refreshments and is carried out for marketing purposes on land adjacent to retail premises in which the same refreshments are available for sale;

The draft basically proposes to make rough sleeping illegal, and feeding rough sleepers (soup runs, etc) illegal as well, while at the same time protecting businesses so they can hand out samples to shoppers.

One of the cabinet members from the Council attempted to defend the draft by claiming "... soup runs keep people on the streets rather than helping them off.", and adding "offering food to someone who is on the street might help convince them to stay out another night".

He later claimed "... we see former rough sleepers in the first stage of adapting to life in accommodation tempted back onto the street by soup runs, who then choose to bed down for the night, rather than return home."

I've worked with homelessness before, and specifically in Camden, Westminster and Paddington, and I can tell you it's very rare to see someone preferring to go back on the street because they like the soup, it's more likely because they have mental or drug issues and are unable to cope, in which case they need more help.

Considering this council is more than 80% controlled by one party, there's little chance this draft won't get through, so expect quite a few demos.

798434.  Mon Mar 21, 2011 10:48 am Reply with quote

I think it is just a little obviously partisan to make the juxtaposition with the Big Society - and a little disingenuous to quote the terminology used in the draft without noting that the geographic area to which it is being applied is actually very small.

It does seem that the central point of the area in question is Westminster School. Make of this what you will.

The other reason I think it is slightly unfair to make a link with TBS is that the council tried to implement a similar plan in 2007.

Whilst I can't say that I would give the proposals my full-throated support, I do think I understand some of the rationale behind it - it is undeniable that there is something of an issue of concentration when it comes to homeless people in the area they've marked out, it's also an area with significant levels of tourist footfall which, and then there's also the faintly uncomfortable general purge of undesirables that seems to accompany any Olympic Games, wherever they are held.

I also think it's worth pointing out that it is not without international precedent, either - I see Toronto banned rough sleeping in a particular area, and I'm sure other examples could be easily uncovered.

And then there's the whole 'give a fish/teach to fish' thing - and soup runs and the like do rather fall into the former category. And I do tend to agree with the point of view that giving money to people on the streets does more to keep them on the streets than to get them off the streets. Oh, and ust as a quick pre-emptive note, Shelter is one of the charities I donate to on a monthly basis.

I'm certainly not going to completely defend the manner in which this is being carried out - but it does seem to me that something needs to be done to break the cycle. And this doesn't seem to me to be quite as bad as is being made out in some quarters.

Of course central London will alway be attractive to the transient, given the higher than average opportunities for begging and - for some - exploitation of less worldly-wise tourists. So making a particular area less attractive may prove to have something of a rebalancing effect.

798450.  Mon Mar 21, 2011 11:37 am Reply with quote

Hey, I said in light of the Big Society, I didn't say it was linked.

As for the central point being a school, seriously?

Link to plan, I know where the school premises are in that plan, and I can't help noting how much shopping area is included as well.

I personally can't defend this move, even if all the homelsess charities turned around and say it's a great idea, because I don't think making it illegal to help peopl is the right response to the problem. If the council is so worried about the image tourists see, how about helping charities seek empty properties (and there are some just to the east and west of that boundary line IIRC from when I used to know that area well)?

798462.  Mon Mar 21, 2011 12:47 pm Reply with quote

Neotenic wrote:
The faintly uncomfortable general purge of undesirables that seems to accompany any Olympic Games, wherever they are held.

They always clear out one lot of undesirables, so that another lot of undesirables don't have to see them? I'm sure that makes sense to someone.

798466.  Mon Mar 21, 2011 1:04 pm Reply with quote

I don't think making it illegal to help peopl is the right response to the problem.

Neither do I - but, at the same time, they're not making it completely illegal to help people, are they?

To me, it says they are prohibiting helping people in a certain way in a certain area - and in order for them to feel the need to take such a drastic step, there must be something of a problem.

And I think that problem is likely to be concentration - after all, I would imagine that very few of the people sitting by cash machines in that area now lived there before they fell on hard times. So, the council will be faced with a disproportionate number of homeless people to deal with, and I can understand that this would cause issues - especially in an area well known for it's rock-bottom council tax rates.

And, following a quick scoot over the Westminster Council website, I've happened upon this FAQ, which suggests I'm at least half-right.

If the council is so worried about the image tourists see, how about helping charities seek empty properties

It seems to me that they're doing that too.

798520.  Mon Mar 21, 2011 4:17 pm Reply with quote

I love the claim about hostel spaces.

Firstly, most councils are looking to get away from hostels because they are not helpful. Secondly, Westminster is one of the notorious councils to use hostel spaces in other boroughs, they are a heavy user of hostels compared to most councils, not because of numbers, but because it allows them to limit social housing and this has been brought up a number of times in the past.

These FAQs are not real FAQs, they are what the Council Committee has decided to have heard, the fact is that there are several questions from workers, volunteers and those affected which are not represented at all.

798521.  Mon Mar 21, 2011 4:18 pm Reply with quote

BTW, have you noticed how the office of the CLG is inside the area which will ban rough sleeping? A bit ironic...

Burgess Shale
798558.  Mon Mar 21, 2011 6:22 pm Reply with quote

Heard about this on another forum. It seems to be either a geniune, if cack-handed, attempt to try and sort homelessness out, or a deliberate attack on people who aren't able to stand up for themselves. Given the way this government is gearing up to attack the disabled by making disability payments voluntary for the councils to use for other purposes, amongst other tactics, I'm inclined towards the latter.

799070.  Wed Mar 23, 2011 8:13 pm Reply with quote

My daughter works for Herts Young Homeless Group, which deals with people aged 16-25 who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless, and some of the people she has dealt with are rough sleepers. I went with her on Christmas Eve a couple of years ago to see a teenage boy she was worried about and wanted to check up on, who was sleeping in a church porch. In terms of facilities and funding available to combat homelessness, things have got somewhat worse since then - her organization's funding has been cut, and she and some colleagues are doing charitable fund-raising to try and patch some of the holes. This doesn't seem much like a Big Society to me.

799470.  Fri Mar 25, 2011 1:12 pm Reply with quote

I notice that in the HoC it was announced that Westminster will not now seek to introduce the part that bans soup runs, though the rough sleeping section is still in concultation.

Not sure why this came from the Commons Leader, as opposed to a statement from Westminster, but I note it wasn't long after Boris got backed into a corner in the London Assembly after trying to dodge the question by claiming he was "pro soup", and when a categoric answer was demanded at the umpteenth time he said "I do not want to ban soup runs, provided they are part of a strategy to help people off the street."

When he was then asked if he'd tell Westminster council that he opposed this scheme, his answer was "Yes. I think that is more or less exactly what I have just said.", which wasn't as vague as he might have hoped it was :)

799477.  Fri Mar 25, 2011 1:21 pm Reply with quote

Speaking of the big society, I've only just been made aware of a letter that appeared in the Telegraph:

SIR – Thousands of pensioners, women fleeing domestic violence, homeless people and people with mental health problems could be forced to fend for themselves because of unintended cuts being made to a government–funded programme called Supporting People.

Although the Government has given relative protection to this £6.5billion programme – reducing the grant it gives councils to fund these services by 12 per cent over four years – some local authorities have announced that they will make cuts of up to 50 per cent this year.

Cuts of this level hurt vulnerable people but make no financial sense. Without early identification, vulnerable individuals will quickly reach crisis point, making greater demands on health and homelessness services and the criminal justice system.

In December, Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, said: “Most sensible local authorities will come to the conclusion that £1 spent on Supporting People will probably save them £5 or £6 further down the line.”

Local authorities need to cut costs. But this shouldn’t mean targeting disproportionate spending reductions on programmes that support the most vulnerable.

As someone who has fought one council from the inside in order to secure SP protection for this financial year (one concession was to give the leader lots of publicity by diverting about £200k from his discretionary budget to cover some losses), I cannot agree more, and can tell you it's a massive issue because the Government took away ringfencing SP, so that while councils can claim for it, they don't need to spending it on those services, which is absolutely bonkers. With the amounts councils are expected to cut, it's no surprise they'll grab any income that isn't ringfenced.

So imagine my surprise when, among all the signatories was a certain Grant Shapps, Housing Minister under the current Governemnt, who brought in the idea of taking away ring fencing from SP.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds this bizarre. You have a minister who took away the proviso that councils must spend this budget on Supporting Housing, they took the hint and are spending a lot of it elsewhere, so rather than simply being back that proviso he signs a letter condemning councils for taking advantage of something he introduced.

Spud McLaren
799526.  Fri Mar 25, 2011 6:38 pm Reply with quote

Not so bizarre. If you are a minister who compels councils to ringfence, you give them carte blanche to blame central government for telling them where their funds are to be spent.

If, on the other hand, you remove the ringfencing requirement you can claim that you gave them the freedom to dispose their spending however they wish and it's now a local issue, nothing to do with me, guv.

799535.  Fri Mar 25, 2011 8:06 pm Reply with quote

I don't know which particular councils are implicated here. But it would be interesting to know whether they are Conservative controlled or Labour controlled.

There have been reports that some Labour councils have deliberately chosen to cut services to vulnerable groups while preserving funding for less essential things. This particularly cynical move has supposedly been taken for political point scoring purposes, so that they can complain that the Conservative government isn't interested in vulnerable groups.

On the other hand, it is no great secret that the Conservative Party in the country is more traditionally right wing than the Conservative Party on the front bench. So a Conservative council might choose to divert money away from vulnerable groups because it really doesn't care about them - in the same sort of way that the Republican Party in the USA doesn't.

Which local authorities is it that are planning to cut their Supporting People funding by 50%?

799691.  Sat Mar 26, 2011 12:53 pm Reply with quote

A quick look around at the larger cuts:

Nottinghamshire (C) - 65% cut
Hull (LD) - 53% cut
Southwark (L) - 50% cut
Devon (C) - 50% cut
Nottingham (L) - 45% cut
Bournmouth (C) - 44% cut
Cornwall (NOC - C= 39%, LD=31%) - 40% cut

799763.  Sat Mar 26, 2011 8:25 pm Reply with quote

The Big Society dons its heels and hats, and marches:

I actually know one of the Ringleaders, and I think she may well be beginning a whole new citizen Movement Nationwide. Bless her.


Page 1 of 2
Goto page 1, 2  Next

All times are GMT - 5 Hours

Display posts from previous:   

Search Search Forums

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2002 phpBB Group