Homeless budget cut changes 'not enough'

Oxford Homeless Pathways Chief executive, Lesley Dewhurst, left, with Jackie Andrews and Tracy Jones, who use the night shelter at O’Hanlon House

Oxford Homeless Pathways Chief executive, Lesley Dewhurst, left, with Jackie Andrews and Tracy Jones, who use the night shelter at O’Hanlon House

First published in News Herald Series: Photograph of the Author by , Council Reporter, also covering Oxford city centre. Call me on 01865 425429

CAMPAIGNERS have dismissed council changes to a controversial budget cut to services for the homeless.

Oxfordshire County Council is planning to cut £1.5m from the current £4m homelessness services budget, as part of plans to save £64m over the next four years, due to cuts from central government.

Now, in a bid to soften the blow, the county council has decided to spread the cut over two years – meaning housing-related support from 2015 will fall by £1m, before falling by a further £500,000 the following year.

But homelessness support groups say the changes do not go far enough.

Lesley Dewhurst, chief executive of Oxford Homeless Pathways, has been at the forefront of the fight against the proposal. She said: “The change give us a bit more flexibility on how the cuts are implemented, but it is the same net result in the long term, so we are very disappointed.

“The cut will mean some radical cuts and changes to services and it may mean the closure of one of the hostels, which will mean 60 more people out on the street.”

John Jackson, county council director for social and community services, has written to those likely to be affected to explain the move.

He said: “This will give us more time to work with you and the district/city councils on how the savings should be implemented. I hope you will continue to work with us and service users to decide how best to manage this reduction whilst still ensuring high quality services.”

The county council has stressed it is not the auth-ority legally responsible for housing – that falls under the umbrella of districts such as Oxford City Council.

And while Bob Price, the leader of the city council, said the changes would help, he was scathing of the cuts.

He said: “Rephasing will be a help in dealing with the loss of homeless provision on a more gradual basis, but the net effect is still that more single homeless people, often with mental health, drink or drugs problems, will receive little or no help to find accommodation and medical support from April next year.

“Some people will be turned out of their accommodation and some will be denied it.”

A final decision will be made at a full meeting of the County Council on Tuesday.

So far ,nearly 3,000 people have signed a petition calling for the cut to be reconsidered.

Last month 17 leading figures such as the Rt Rev John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford, and MP for Oxford East Andrew Smith, signed an open letter asking for it to be scrapped.

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