Will housing benefit cuts force unemployed back to work?

The government is planning to reduce housing benefit for the long-term unemployed, in the hope of forcing people back to work. The charity Providence Row believes this could backfire and create a spiral of poverty and homelessness. But what is the best way of getting people back into work and the community?

From April 2013 the government will reduce housing benefit by 10% for those who have been unemployed for 12 months or more. However, critics of the policy say that support and training is the best way to help such people, particularly those coming out of a period of homelessness. To tackle the question of who is right, Providence Row is holding a public debate with policy makers, politicians and service providers.

"Carrot or stick? How do we get rough sleepers off the streets and into the community?", will be debated by panellists including Richard Blakeway, advisor for housing and rough sleeping to London Mayor Boris Johnson; Daniel Astaire, Conservative councillor for Westminster who is Cabinet Member with responsibility for rough sleeping and Duncan Shrubsole, director of policy and external affairs for homelessness charity, Crisis.

Lisa Harrison, Deputy CEO of Providence Row, who will also be speaking at the debate, said: "We are seriously concerned about this government’s idea that reducing income will lead people into work. Some of these people are very vulnerable; they may have mental health problems, addictions or low literacy. They want to work, but they have additional barriers to overcome first. This debate will give everyone the opportunity to hear opinions that both support and challenge these decisions and to ask questions."

One graduate of the charity’s trainee volunteer programme had been homeless for a year before starting the scheme. He is now doing an apprenticeship under a professional chef and says: "The trainee volunteer programme gave me support and work experience, it helped me into my career. Just taking away my benefits wouldn’t have given me any of this".

However, the programme costs £350 per person and Providence Row receives no statutory funding towards this. This debate will examine the most effective ways of getting the most marginalised people to become active participants in society in an age of austerity.

This event will take place on Tuesday, 1 March from 6.30pm at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Northcliffe House, 28 Tudor Street, London EC4Y 0AY. To book your free place email: dkulkarni@providencerow.org.uk or telephone 020 7422 6763.

For more information about Providence Row, see: www.providencerow.org.uk/

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