Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)

MONDAY 17 DECEMBER 2001

MAVIS MCDONALD, MS LOUISE CASEY, MS NAOMI EISENSTADT, MS VANESSA HOGBIN AND MR STEPHEN MITCHELL

  40. You do not?
  (Ms Casey) No.

  41. The reason I say discredited, it is another way of saying people do not believe them. If you do not accept they are discredited, and presumably there are people who do believe them, how do you account for the fact that reputable organisations have put their words in measured tone. Organisations like Shelter have said, "the allegations that have been made about the street count need to be fully and urgently investigated". Crisis have said, "Louise Casey needs to carry out a full review of how the count is being done". The Simon Community, which has been helping the homeless in London since 1963, has called for an independent investigation into the methods used. People are not believing you, are they?
  (Ms Casey) Shelter and Crisis have now fully endorsed the figures that the Prime Minister announced on 3 December. What they said was if any of the allegations turned out to be true they would be worried, so would I. In relation to the major national organisation Homeless Link, which represent over 1,000 different organisations, some funded by the government, some not funded by the government, to help people who are homeless, including those who are rough sleepers, themselves wrote to the Guardian on 26 November after the original Guardian article that quoted the Simon Community. As to the Simon Community I can only say we have asked to meet with them to discuss their concerns, and I am hopeful that meeting will take place this week. I think some of what they are saying is based on myth and misinformation. Hopefully once the air is cleared we can move on.

  42. You said that Shelter and Crisis fully endorsed your figures. I was reading an article from Inside Housing which says, "Crisis Chief Executive says Louise Casey needs to carry out a full review of how the counts are being done". Have you carried out a full review?
  (Ms Casey) We have done a review. We are very happy to look at anything that needs to be changed in the future, if it does. In fact Shelter and Homeless Network set up this methodology, it has been done pre 1996 and onwards, the same method is used, independent volunteers are involved and the counts are done by local authorities and charities as well as independent people. They pass those statistics to the government and we publish them. I am quite clear at the moment that this is the most robust, consistent method of checking the rough sleeping population as it happens every six or 12 months. That is what the figure represents, that is what the street counts do.

  43. There are allegations that the Rough Sleepers Unit paid for rough sleepers to go into bed and breakfast accommodation for the night of the count so that numbers would be low. What is your comment on those allegations?
  (Ms Casey) There is no truth in those. I am quite pleased about the timing of this Committee, although this was not a subject matter, I am very pleased to be here and able to answer it. The truth of the matter is I believe five people moved into bed and breakfast that night via the St Thomas's Contact and Assessment Team, which is an independent charity. Those five people are not atypical, sometimes people do not want to move into shelters, particularly people who have been out on the streets for quite some time. They do not want, and I quote, "to be social-worked to death in hostels and projects, sometimes they just want the anonymity of being able to the move into B&B". Over 16 per cent of the total accommodation used in London during every given year is actually bed and breakfast hotels, so nothing different was done on the night of the count than any other night.

  44. The Rough Sleepers Unit itself does spend money on putting people into bed and breakfast.
  (Ms Casey) The Rough Sleepers Unit funds organisations to try and ensure that people move off the streets and get the help and support they need. Some of those organisations use taxpayers' money to place people in bed and breakfast hotels, and I think that is okay.

  45. Is it possible that some could be put into bed and breakfast for a couple of nights and then on the third morning they are cast out on to the street again?
  (Ms Casey) That is not.

  46. That is not possible. So the people that have told me that has happened are wrong.
  (Ms Casey) People are basing some of their thinking on myth and misinformation. People are moved into bed and breakfast and people are moved into shelter.

  47. When you say myth and misinformation, we are familiar with mythology, we all know Lord of the Rings has just been launched on our screens, what are you saying when you say that is a myth, do you mean they are making it up, they are fantasising?
  (Ms Casey) No, I would not be that uncharitable. People do not know what happens and for whatever reason they are making their own views. The truth is that bed and breakfast is one of many options which is available to people trying to help people move off the streets. We know that people move off the streets all of the time into B&B, into rolling shelters, into hostels and into permanent housing, it is just one of many options.

  48. Can you just clarify another point, there has been an allegation that the RSU officials that took part in the count pressured experienced Outreach workers to exclude rough sleepers who were well known to them, particularly if they had not bedded down. If they were in a doorway and they were sitting up, even if they had a sleeping bag on them or a blanket over them, they were not counted as rough sleepers.
  (Ms Casey) That would have been counted as rough sleepers. No undue pressure has been put on anybody.

  49. That was a specific allegation, that specific pressure was put on Outreach workers when they came back with the numbers that they had, to change those numbers.
  (Ms Casey) That is simply not the case. We have to accept the numbers that are given to us by the local authorities and voluntary organisations who are there to undertake the street count using independent people, it is as simple as that. There are a number of people, I think it was on the Today programme, which I did last week, I think, undoubtedly some of the Outreach workers in Central London, I believe they are small in number, feel under a great deal of scrutiny from the RSU throughout the year. I do Outreach sessions all the time with CAT workers, without CAT workers, so do members of my team, it is called getting out there and doing your job.

  50. What about the question of workers being prevented from visiting an area that they would visit the other 364 days of the year that may contain rough sleepers, such as parks, where the workers were told not to go for personal safety on the night of the count?
  (Ms Casey) That really is complete nonsense. I know full well that the parks were counted on the particular night that the central London street count took place.

  51. Your figures say that in Birmingham, England's second city, there are only two people sleeping rough compared with 56 in 1998 and in Nottingham there were only three. The BBC went out the following night and found 10. How credible are these figures?
  (Ms Casey) That was Bob Walker from the Today programme, who has been spending months on this.

  52. Is it not likely that the more time that he has spent on it the more facts he uncovered?
  (Ms Casey) It would be good if he did it with Outreach workers or learned what he was doing properly, that is neither here nor there, that is Bob Walker for you and that is me for you. The bottom line is this, the local authority in Birmingham and the organisations, the charities out there, it really upsets me because Focus Housing Group have done a phenomenal job in Birmingham to ensure that there is no longer a reason for somebody to be sleeping out on the streets. They still have people who they are working with who are just off the street and that is where their focus and attention comes from. Interestingly the Sunday Mirror journalist the week before found four people sleeping on the streets, two of whom were wandering about and two of whom were not.

  53. I have to confine my questions to the Report, if I can turn to page 72, in column two it talks about rough sleepers getting access to appropriate housing. Could you say what criteria are used to assess what is appropriate housing for any given rough sleeper? How do you go about understanding what "any given rough sleeper means"?
  (Ms Casey) That is why the government fund organisations like Thames Reach, St Mungo's, Focus Housing Group and many others, as well as funding approved social workers who have mental health skills, people who are specialists in drug, alcohol, and mental health, basically frontline staff, work on the street—

  54. This is the contact assessment team.
  (Ms Casey)—in projects, in night shelters, in night centres and in hostels to try and assess if somebody needs help with a mental health problem, whether they need drug detox, whether they need rehabilitation, whether they simply want a bed for the night or what kind of problem they have and how they can help them come inside.

  55. They would undertake an assessment and the rough sleepers would be placed in the most appropriate housing according to that.
  (Ms Casey) It depends. Sometimes people might move straight into a shelter and then the shelter would do the assessment. There are lots of different ways, we are not that prescriptive.

  56. But it would not be a case of just putting them in the back of a vehicle and marching them up to a shelter and putting them off there, you would not do that?
  (Ms Casey) From time to time I think outreach teams or other people—Shelter Line, for example, might do a telephone referral. If somebody rings up from a call box and says "I am in Sheffield and I need somewhere for tonight", sometimes they would ring up and book the hostel bed and the person would move in there and then it is down to the hostel to do that sort of assessment. It varies. It is not a science.

  57. You mentioned the Catterick Project for ex-servicemen and you said you are doing your own independent evaluation. Who is doing the evaluation?
  (Ms Casey) The Department is undertaking an evaluation of many different aspects of the rough sleepers strategy and Geoff Randall, I think he is from Resource and Information Service—They went through a tendering process and the research department in the DTLR let the contract to him and he is—

  58. This is Geoff Randall?
  (Ms Casey) I think it is called Resource and Information Service.

  59. So he is part of the department?
  (Ms Casey) No, he is not. We tendered a research contract.


 
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