Human Rights Council

Submission to 27th Session of the UPR

UPR OF UNITED KINGDOM (NORTHERN IRELAND)

 

INTRODUCTION & CONTEXT

This submission is by EDMUND RICE INTERNATIONAL, an NGO with consultative UN status, on behalf of the Edmund Rice Network UK, The Westcourt Centre, Belfast in association with the Council for the Homelessness in Northern Ireland.[1]

  1. This submission has been developed by the European Province Advocacy Team, on behalf of the Edmund Rice Network in Northern Ireland. The Edmund Rice Network in Northern Ireland contributes to the work of Edmund Rice International, an NGO based in Geneva which enjoys consultative status with the United Nations.
  2. The Westcourt Centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, promotes social inclusion and advocates on behalf of people who experience different forms of social exclusion.[2]
  3. Since 2008 The Westcourt Centre has been working with a number of local service providers for homeless people in the Belfast area and has developed a strong relationship with the homeless sector. A key feature of the work of the Centre is focused on providing an advocacy platform for homeless people in the city by giving voice to their personal experiences of homelessness. The Centre works closely with the Council for the Homeless in Northern Ireland (CHNI) and the Welcome Organisation.[3]

HOMELESSNESS IN NORTHERN IRELAND – THE REALITY

  1. In two photography exhibitions displayed in Belfast, Hidden Quarter (2010) and Hidden Voices (2011), The Westcourt Centre has documented the experience of homeless people in Belfast. The anecdotal evidence from this work has indicated the existence of a serious homelessness situation in Belfast, compounded by issues around addiction and mental health. For example, between February and March 2016 a number of vulnerable people were found dead in shop doorways in Belfast city centre. All of these victims of street death were receiving support from homeless services.
  2. According to The Homeless Monitor: Northern Ireland 2013 by Crisis UK, a survey conducted in Northern Ireland in 2012 established that some six percent of all adults in Northern Ireland had said that they had experienced homelessness, with 1.4 per cent saying that this had occurred in the previous five years. It also noted that 0.6 per cent of respondents were sleeping rough in temporary accommodation.
  3. In the Westcourt Centre publication, Word on the Street, Voices of Homelessness, a number of Belfast homeless people have provided personal accounts of their experience of homelessness. The following are a brief quotes from homeless people who were interviewed:

One of the hardest things of being homeless was the attitude of other people towards me and the reactions of those whom I asked for help. Most people have the wrong idea of what it means to be homeless, simply put it means not having a home – nothing else (Daniel, 2013)

I ended up homeless. Not you’re staying in a hostel kind of homeless; you’re sleeping on the streets sleeping-bag, kind of homeless. I’m not going to bang on about but it is terrifying. The town is a very different place at night, a very different place (Erin, 2013)

THE SITUATION: DATA

  1. Housing is a basic human right as well as a social need. Current evidence is that the UK Government is failing to address effectively and strategically, the needs of homeless people in Northern Ireland and securing the fundamental right to adequate housing (Article 25.1 UDHR, Article 11.1 of ICESCR, UN OHCHR Fact Sheet 21).
  2. Information provided by the Council for the Homeless Northern Ireland (CHNI), the Northern Ireland Executive Department for Communities (formerly the Department for Social Development) and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) indicates strongly that homelessness is a serious issue for many people. In addition, The Westcourt Centre (Edmund Rice Network) has worked with homeless service providers since 2008 and has developed anecdotal evidence directly from interviews with homeless people.

STATUTORY HOMELESSNESS

  1. Since UK devolution of power to Wales and Scotland in 1999 there has been a divergence in the way each nation allocates housing to homeless people. Differences in the way in which homelessness statistics are gathered have also developed. This makes it difficult to correlate data across the UK as a whole. The statutory definition of homelessness differs across jurisdictions.
  2. It is important to note that statutory homelessness refers primarily to households rather than individuals. While the term ‘homeless’ is often understood to refer to people ‘sleeping rough’, a household is deemed to be ‘statutorily homeless’ if it (or he, she, they) meets criteria established by relevant UK local authorities. In Northern Ireland statutory homelessness is assessed on the basis of four criteria. A person or persons who meet these criteria is/are deemed to be ‘full duty applicants’, that is persons in respect of whom the government incurs a statutory obligation.[4]
  3. Statutory homelessness in Northern Ireland has remained at historically high levels since 2005/06. Many people live in accommodation that is run-down or overcrowded. Demand for affordable places to live is rising, and more people are seeking help with their housing. Others have lost their homes altogether.[5]
  4. For 2014–15 Northern Ireland Government statistics show that 19,621 households presented as homeless to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. This represented an increase of 4 per cent from 2013-2014. The household types with the highest number of homeless presenters in 2014/15 included single males (35 per cent) and families (32 per cent).[6]
  5. Of the number who presented as homeless (19,621) 11,016 people were accepted as statutorily homeless, as meeting the four criteria laid down by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) for eligibility to be classed as full duty applicants (FDA). A full duty applicant (FDA) is a housing applicant toward which the NIHE has a legal responsibility. The number accepted as statutorily homeless represented a fourteen percent increase on the year 2013–14.
  6. Despite the complexities of local authority data gathering it is, nonetheless, clear that homelessness is a significant problem in Northern Ireland, even without the implementation of the Welfare Reform Act, which has seen homelessness presentations soar in other jurisdictions in the UK. The Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Les Allamby, having reviewed the data, has commented in the Commission’s 2016 report to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:

Whilst this report to the United Nations interrogates a number of issues, we cannot lose sight of the fact that it is housing in Northern Ireland that takes up the bulk of the findings presented. It is concerning that the rates for statutory homelessness are higher here than anywhere elsewhere in the UK. We must also remember that homelessness goes much further than people living on the streets and covers people having to stay with friends, or living in other transient circumstances.

  1. As a group experiencing significant social exclusion in Northern Ireland, homeless people are all the more vulnerable because they present with complex needs. Service providers working with homeless people report that they represent an increasingly complex and challenging client group. This suggests a need for integrated services and an inter-departmental approach on the part of the Northern Ireland Government.
  2. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) Homelessness Strategy for Northern Ireland 2012–2017 states that an integrated strategy is required with the relevant organisations working together to deliver housing, employment, health, financial support and welfare services to those who experience homelessness. However, crucially, the Northern Ireland Executive Draft Programme for Government Framework 2016–2021, published in May 2016, failed to outline a specific housing outcome in the Framework or a specific indicator to address the issue of statutory homelessness. This suggests little cross-department support for implementing a strategy to alleviate homelessness in Northern Ireland.
  3. Homelessness is an extreme form of social exclusion and is a strong indicator of social injustice for any society. Homelessness is not a single problem but rather many different problems intertwined: lack of housing; lack of jobs; lack of money; lack of social support; lack of health care; lack of support for addiction and mental health; social exclusion and poverty amongst others.
  4. People with complex needs are often failed by services, excluded from the help they need or fall between services which only deal with a single problem. The recent street deaths in Belfast referred to earlier are a tragic example of the failure to work together. Greater cohesion across government departments in the development of a social inclusion strategy to address the related problems of housing provision, homelessness, addiction and mental health, unemployment and under-employment as well as systemic poverty is essential.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. In light of the foregoing and having regard to the human rights implications of homeless citizens in the United Kingdom, Edmund Rice International recommends that the United Kingdom government address the issue of homelessness in Northern Ireland by implementing the following measures:
  • Have cross-departmental investment to support early intervention and prevention;
  • Ensure there are fewer barriers to accessing healthcare, addiction and mental health services, social services, employment, education and training; and

Ensure close working relationships between Health, Social Security, the homelessness sector and addiction and mental health servic

[1] The Council for the Homeless Northern Ireland (CHNI) was founded in 1983 and is the sole representative body for those working with homeless people across Northern Ireland www.chni.org.uk

The CHNI is a membership organisation whose members include the following: NB Housing (Flax & Filor)Abbey Surestart, NI Co-ownership Housing Association, Action Ability Belfast, NIAMH, Action for Children, NICEM – Belfast Migrant Centre, AGE North Down & Ards, NIFHA, An Munia Tober, NIID, Apex Housing, Northlands, Ark HA, Oaklee Trinity Ltd, Barnardos Leaving and Aftercare Project, Open Door, Belfast Central Mission, Praxis Care Group, Castle Living & Support Services, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Cause, Probation Board of Northern Ireland, CITHRATH Foundation, Queens Quarter Housing (NI) Ltd, Clarendon Shelter, Regina Coeli, Community Health and Development Network, Rosemount House, De Paul Ireland, Rural Community Network, East Belfast Mission, Salvation Army, Extern, Shelter NI, Families Need Fathers, Simon Community NI, FHASS, Start 360.

[2] The Westcourt Centre in Belfast aims to promote social inclusion and reduce disadvantage through education. As part of the Edmund Rice Network, Westcourt is committed to working towards social justice by giving voice and support to people on the margins. Since 2008, Westcourt has been working with a number of local service providers for the homeless to support homeless people and help raise awareness of the issue of homelessness www.stillsomebody.org

 

[3] The Welcome Organisation in Belfast is a voluntary body focused on the provision of services for homeless people www.homelessbelfast.org

[4] UK Department for Communities and Local Government https://socialwelfare.bl.uk/subject-areas/services-activity/housing-homelessness/departmentforcommunitiesandlocalgovernment/1774282015_Q3_Statutory_Homelessness.pdf

[5] Council for the Homeless Northern Ireland (CHNI) Homelessness Manifesto 2016

[6] Source: Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission http://www.nihrc.org/news/detail/northern-ireland-homelessness-highlighted-at-the-un