By Isabel Togoh
Speculation is mounting over what will be in Philip Hammond’s third budget on Monday.
As the Chancellor prepares to reveal the contents of his red book, economists are scribbling frantic calculations on whether he really will be able to make good on Theresa May’s promise to end austerity.
To get a clearer picture of the everyday impact of Hammond’s wide-ranging financial decisions, HuffPost UK spoke to frontline and policy workers who see their direct effect first-hand, every day.
We asked them which measures they are hoping to hear to ease the pressure in their sectors, which could make their day-to-day dealings with homelessness, social care and children’s services more bearable.
Fabienne Persaud-Drennan is a housing officer at Brighton and Hove city council, who says she and her colleagues are being challenged by the sheer number of clients who require affordable housing – something which is becoming increasingly difficult to find in the seaside town.
She told HuffPost UK: “The government has paid lip-service and it does feel like they recognise there’s a housing crisis and they are trying to make changes, but I want the financial backing for that on Monday.”
Persaud-Drennan, who started the job this year, says her work and that of her colleagues is particularly stressful due to the desperate nature of the cases they deal with.
She says it varies week-to-week but recently, a colleague on the frontline saw 28 different people on her own in a single day. “That was a particularly difficult day,” she said.
On other days, Persaud-Drennan might see five people coming in for a few different reasons.
“Predominantly if they are homeless on the day, or they have been presented with a section 21 [eviction notice] so they will be homeless within a couple of months, or they’ll come in to complain about their emergency accommodation or ask about their position on the housing register for a council house,” she said.
Quite simply, proper financial backing of recently-proposed government policies would make an immediate difference, the housing officer said.
“Two things have been indicated – one is that [the government] are going to raise the borrowing cap for local councils so that they can build more and more housing that’s suitable for local people’s needs,” she added.
“Local constituents in Brighton and Hove expect their local authority to be able to help them, but without the financial capacity to do that, your hands are constantly tied.”
We are constantly having to tell people ‘okay, you’re going to be homeless in two months time, you’re going to have to find out of your accommodation
She said she wants to see a real cash commitment put behind the PM’s party conference assurance that austerity is over.
“What I want to see on Monday is the real financial backing of that – giving more money to local councils and letting them have more independence in terms of being able to borrow as much money and really provide housing for people that need it the most.”
Persaud-Drennan also wants to see an end to the housing benefits freeze which she says has had a direct effect on local councils being able to find affordable housing in an area, for people in that area.
Local residents want to find it in Brighton, but the local housing allowance is not able to cover rapidly increasing rents and a recent HuffPost UK investigation revealed 50,000 households have been moved from their local communities in the last five years.
“We are constantly having to tell people ‘okay, you’re going to be homeless in two months time, you’re going to have to find out of your accommodation’,” she said.
“People who come in everyday, they’ve lived in Brighton their whole lives, they don’t want to be placed elsewhere. It’s frustrating having to deliver that message to people constantly that they don’t have a choice, because they’re on low incomes so they have little choice but to move out of the area they’ve lived their whole lives.”
A lack of funding means Persaud-Drennan and her colleagues are stretched and, despite working hard, there are never enough staff, days or hours in the week.
“There’s not enough capacity for us as a housing department to deal with the amount of people coming in with different issues. [With] so many cuts to adult social care and local authorities generally, there are a lot of people with complex needs who are falling by the wayside and there are not the integrated, holistic services that they deserve in place because there’s not the time or money to…help them individually, on a case by case basis,” she said.
“This claim that austerity is over or is ending is just so far from reality.”
Persaud-Drennan also says that a commitment to extended minimum tenancies to three years, announced by housing minister James Brokenshire in July, as well as lengthening the two-month section 21 eviction notice period would make it easier for the council to work with clients more effectively, and find them a secure home.
But beyond funding, providing accessible housing for people with disabilities is just as crucial, as well as abolishing the Right To Buy policy.
“I don’t see see why it is needed,” she said.
Debby Morgan, a service coordinator and story officer for charity Action for Children, works in children’s services for vulnerable kids under five and their parents in rural parts of Buckinghamshire.
Her work includes providing play sessions, as well as targeted one-on-one sessions with families to help with a child’s behaviour, early development, and reducing isolation among parents.
She would like to see a commitment to long-term investment in the service, particularly in rural areas, which she says are suffering as resources are concentrated in more populated regions when local authorities face funding cuts.
“We know how important the early years are for children’s development, for wellbeing,” she told HuffPost UK.
“As an adult, we can all trace back to what happened as a child. And I think parents and families are facing increasing amounts of stress, particularly with social media – there’s a kind of pressure to be the perfect parent. We should be putting more services in to support parents, not taking services away.
“A lot of the rural towns don’t have great transport links and they’ve already lost a lot of their services. More and more services are being moved out of these rural communities and they’re looking to do the same with children’s centres [where they’re saying] ‘let’s put them where they’re really needed’.”
Morgan says such difficulties are not exclusive to families struggling financially.
“You don’t have to be poor to have child that doesn’t behave themselves or for your relationship to break down or for you to lose your job and find yourself in debt, or to have a child with a disability or to have a substance abuse problems,” she said.
“I’m really hoping for more money that is seen to be a committed long-term investment. It’s got to come centrally. All of the local councils are having their budgets slashed that they get from central government. They can’t sustain, so they’re having to cut things left, right and centre.”
Morgan, who has been in sector for 17 years, added that a long-term cash injection would “demonstrate a commitment to children and early years that I don’t think the government is showing at the moment.”
Nicole Stanfield Caile started her social care career in residential care, where she worked for five years in a care home for elderly people.
She was motivated to switch to nursing in July after losing faith in the sustainability of the residential care sector, which she fears might not even exist in the next decade.
The mother-of-one is worried that social care is being neglected.
She told HuffPost UK: “I have seen Theresa May is promising £20bn to the NHS which is fine, I guess, but I notice that social care is not being mentioned very much by [the government]. Yeah, the NHS is in crisis, but I feel that social care is almost an unspoken crisis – you don’t hear a lot about it, it kind of gets drowned out by the NHS issues. More pledged towards that would be a tremendous help.”
The 33-year-old added: “In residential care, I noticed over the course of my time there was a tightening of the purse strings.
“Already in a residential home, people are paying upwards of £600 a week to stay there. Social will help you pay for that if you qualify, but they’ll only pay to a certain amount and you’re expected to pay for the rest.
“It’s just not a sustainable system and because people don’t get money for care anymore, they wait until they’re almost dead on their feet before they come into care, which puts an enormous strain on staff in the home because they take more time to care for.
“I don’t see it getting any better. I don’t even see the residential care home existing in the next 10 years, because who’s going to come into care and pay those fees?”
Caile says the alternative would be community care in people’s homes, which does not provide the round-the-clock care that some elderly people require.
“I’m not saying that community care is bad, but it’s not like living in a home and having constant 24-hour care. It’s rather sad, really,” she added.
The student nurse, who has taken out a loan to study, says there are too many barriers to entry in the vital career and that she would not be able to afford it if not for her partner being the main breadwinner.
She added that she would like to see a return of a bursary which supports student nurses in the profession – which was scrapped by the government last year.
“As far as being a nursing student, we don’t get the bursary anymore, so we’re forced to rely on student loans which is okay, but we’re working full time, especially when we’re on our placements, for no money – a lot of these nurses have to work part time in jobs and it makes for a really busy, hectic week,” Caile said.
“The government wants more nurses, nurses are leaving the profession in droves, but since we have to get a degree to be a nurse, the process isn’t being made easy for anyone.
“A budget promise that would bring back the nurseries or look at a way of relieving pressure medical students in particular [would be helpful].”
Hannah Gousy is a policy and public affairs manager at charity Crisis, who says investment in homelessness prevention is top of her wishlist of announcements.
She told HuffPost UK: “We want to see government invest more sharply in interventions to prevent homelessness from taking place in the first instance. At the moment, we have £1.1bn being invested in homelessness, but a really big proportion of that is dedicated to interventions that help people once they’ve already become homeless, and housing them in emergency-type accommodation.”
Gousy says one of her employer’s main focuses in recent months has been lobbying ministers to invest £20m to roll out a network of housing and homelessness specialists across Jobcentre Plus sites.
“The aim of that is to make sure we have a dedicated individual to help identify if someone is already homeless, or if someone’s at risk, and then putting in the appropriate interventions to support them at that time,” she said.
“We often find that if someone is in contact with a Jobcentre, they are at risk and the priority at that point is to find housing, because they’re battling with that challenge of finding housing and employment at the same time.”
The specialists would ensure people who are at risk of becoming homeless can get the support they need, according to Crisis.
The charity has been trialling the approach around the country, which they say has been “very successful”.
The issue is closely intertwined with the highly-criticised Universal Credit benefits system which has seen claimants receive delayed or erroneous payments, and struggle to pay rent, among other challenges.
The benefits system merges the six existing payments into one monthly sum and is planned to be fully implemented across the country next year.
Gousy said: “We think it’s a fairly low investment for the government to make sure that when people are moving onto Universal Credit that they’re not at risk of homelessness, they’re not being inappropriately sanctioned.”
She added that a £40m investment in Critical Time Intervention, which focuses on preventing homelessness for people who are leaving a state institution and might be most at risk – such as prison or the care system – would see people quickly rehoused after leaving the institution.
Similarly to Persaud-Drennan, she said that claims that austerity is over would not ring true until homelessness is eradicated.
“If we’re really serious about tackling that and fulfilling that commitment, we would need to see policies in place that not only end rough sleeping, but all forms of homelessness including housing benefit rates and making sure they cover the cost of renting. It would also include ensuring we have enough social housing being built every year,” she added.
“And it does involve a focus on making sure Universal Credit is working properly.”