The debate on homelessness in the city continues and some have claimed that benefit changes are the real cause of the spike in people presenting to Peterborough City Council as statutorily homeless.
Of course, other factors drive homelessness – landlords ending tenancies due to tax changes and the new Selective Licensing Scheme, Eastern European migrants in short term and insecure work, a shortage of affordable properties for low paid working people, these are a few other reasons. The leader of the city council mentioned Universal Credit in particular – erroneously in my opinion. I spoke in the debate in the Commons a few weeks ago on the Homelessness Reduction Bill and in reality, the pressure of rising homelessness and strategies needed to prevent it are national and not just a Peterborough phenomena.
Part of the problem is that people don’t actually know what the new Universal Credit means. People always resist change but these benefit changes are changing peoples’ lives for the better. In short, Universal Credit is simplifying the benefits system by rolling six previously complicated benefits (including housing benefit, job seekers allowance and tax credits) into one simple monthly payment. The idea is that by simplifying the system, all of the guidance and support from Job Centre staff will go towards getting people into work, rather than spending all of their time navigating the various benefits. Years ago, I worked in a jobcentre and it was a depressing experience for staff and claimants, the latter treated as encumbrances and data rather than people. We’ve move on since then, thank goodness. Universal Credit also means that every single person going through the jobseekers process will be assigned individual work coaches who will help with every aspect of finding work, including help with training that may be required as well as finding childcare. This means that both the jobseeker and the work coach can put 100 per cent of their time and efforts into finding work. And, for the first time ever, people are being supported by their work coach once they are in work, to ensure that they remain in work and get the support needed to stay in work and get on. It is crucial to ensure that people are supported into work and when in work, as many can be very nervous about stepping into employment - especially the long-term unemployed. And Universal Credit is working as we are seeing an increase in the success rates of people moving off benefits and into work, as unemployment remains at record low levels (1.8 per cent in my constituency) and more than 8,000 jobs have been created in Peterborough since 2010. We are also lucky to have a number of engaging and enthusiastic staff at the job centre in Peterborough (which I visited last year), who are actively working alongside the business community so that they know what jobs will be coming up and how they can tailor the training that jobseekers receive so that they are able to fill those jobs.
They really are going above and beyond so I am very proud that Peterborough is yet again proving to be a shining example of best practice.