Watts HAS Conf Nov 2013 Rights, Stigma and Homelessness

Rights, Stigma and
A Comparison of Homelessness Policy in
Scotland and Ireland
Beth Watts [email protected]
Institute for Housing Urban and Real Estate Research
What difference do legal
rights make…?
To ensuring that those in greatest need access
suitable housing?
To legalism in the delivery of homelessness services?
Material impacts
To perverse incentives?
To ameliorating the stigma of homelessness?
To empowering those experiencing homelessness?
Scottish homelessness
policy in context
 A strong-legal rights based approach
 Virtually all homeless households have a legal right to
settled accommodation, enforceable through domestic
 International exemplar; Human Rights Award
 Legal rights elsewhere:
> Usually limited to emergency accommodation (Germany, Sweden,
Poland, Hungary, NYC)
> Legal rights to settled accommodation in UK and France only
Irish homelessness policy in
 Emphasis on individual/family reliance; large, faith-based
charitable sector: homelessness not recognised as a state
responsibility until the 1980s
 Pathologies of legal rights: adversarial, legalistic, financially
burdensome, anathema to Irish constitution/practice; fear of
gridlock between rights ‘resisters’ and ‘essentialists’
 ‘Social partnership’ model: problem solving, negotiation and
consensus building among key stakeholders and ‘continuous
learning’ to ‘ratchet up’ standards
 Low key, incremental approach: more robust and intended
outcomes than legalistic route?
The study
Local Informants interviews
• Local authority staff
• Voluntary sector staff
Service user interviews
• Currently/recently homeless
single men
Phase 1 (late 2010)
National key informant interviews
• Policy makers
• Voluntary sector leaders
• Academics
Phase 2 (2011)
Local case studies
To compare
approaches at
the sharp end/for
least prioritised
Total participants 67
Only those in
priority need
in Scotland
‘Exemplars’ of
Housing need
A 24 year old man, asked to leave by the friends he’s staying with. He has a
history of drug use and mental health issues, has spent time in prison and
exhausted friends and family as a source of accommodation.
if somebody was in that
situation, a single
homeless male, or anyone
else… [we] always get people
what they need, we never
turn people away, we never
say sorry we can’t help you...
we make absolutely every
effort to re-house them
[parts of Dublin] have
a disproportionately
high level of social
housing, so there are
times then when the
housing manager will
say look, you need to
pepper-pot it more
would he be capable of
independent living?
…we wouldn’t give a unit
where we felt he wasn’t
able to look after himself
the [police] check everybody
before we put them into
standard social housing,
and a lot of them because of
their past would raise alarm
bells … it’s a judgement call
on the given manager to
if you were putting them into a high
demand area and the residents are
very active the manager has to say
‘no, I can’t take him’
Legal rights and discretion
 Legal rights reduce scope for provider discretion in
determining who gets access to settled housing
 Enforce a blunt focus on accessing settled housing
and crowd-out other considerations
 Multiple objectives pursued by providers in Ireland,
leading to inertia in homelessness services
 Legal rights make the label of homelessness make more salient
the homeless label is still a problem… [it]
gives you access to something valuable, but
it’s not necessarily in your interests’
(LA senior manager, Scotland)
people should be able to access what
they need… without having to get the
tag of being ‘homeless’’
(LA service manager, Scotland)
 Legal rights accord a different status to those experiencing
everybody’s entitled to help...
there’s help available if you need
(Edinburgh service user)
everybody has a right to be
housed... it’s ridiculous that people
are homeless
(Edinburgh service user)
I don’t expect people to do this and
do that… it’s a kind of a balance, you
have to put as much as you can in
(Dublin Service User)
if they can help, they will… they do
what they can, when they can. If they
don’t have the time, they’ll tell you,
you know? So they’re good
(Dublin Service User)
 Legal rights disempower by undermining
personal responsibility and autonomy?
I’m not sure the way that people are
herded into situations through the
homeless route actually does empower
them at all
(National stakeholder, Scotland)
there’s a risk of taking away any
incentive for people to take more
responsibility for their own housing
(National stakeholder, Scotland)
Why should there be a legal right
for people to be housed? You
should work towards it
(Service user, Dublin)
the notion of people being the bearers of
very defined rights sits alongside the
notion that they should have some
authorship of their own lives and some
authorship of what those rights should
(National stakeholder, Ireland)
Legal rights empower
 Bolster a sense of entitlement among
service users, which is seen as
legitimate by providers
 Foster more assertive dispositions and
higher expectations
 Structural understandings of the
causes of homelessness - ‘desert’ not
primary concern
 Homeless men as ‘entitled rights’
If there’s a view… that
people [service users] are
getting a bit more angsty,
then fantastic!’
(National stakeholder,
voluntary sector, Scotland)
I’m just champing at the bit,
ready to go
(Hostel resident, Edinburgh)
every day that goes past is
just like a waste, cos I
could’ve been doing
something more
(Hostel resident, Edinburgh)
Lack of legal rights disempowers
 Acceptance, quiescence and
lower expectations
 Grateful/lucky to have received
 Personal responsibility, narratives
of desert/self-reliance
 Resistance to idea of legal rights
 Homeless men as ‘grateful
this is like excellent… I’m glad to be
here…it’s a good place to get
breathing space, I can’t knock it
really’ (Service user, Dublin)
I was told a couple of times to put
complaints in… and I wouldn’t. I’m not
that type, I don’t know what it is, but I
just didn’t feel I was entitled to it
(Service user, Dublin)
Why should there be a legal right for
people to be housed? You should work
towards it (Service user, Dublin).
It’s easier to empower someone when you can say ‘and
this is the law’ as opposed to ‘look, this is what you
should do and hopefully you’ll get lucky or you’ll get the
service you need (Voluntary sector, Ireland)
Perverse incentives
• … a side effect of responses to homelessness that
prioritise housing according to need
you have to be homeless… to come
anywhere near to getting a flat… that’s
why people are doing it… and a lot of
other people are doing [it] because
they… really need the support (Hostel
resident, Edinburgh)
the numbers of people who I think are
abusing the system … I think is relatively
small compared to the good that comes
out of it (Service provider, Edinburgh)
that has been said by some local
authorities, that people were deliberately
making themselves homeless to jump
the queue (Academic, Ireland)
[we’re] a victim of our own
successes… if … people are seeing
that they can get placed in a supported
temporary accommodation and at the
end of that they have a council
apartment… Is that not maybe
encouraging, you know? (Service
provider, Dublin)
 In practice, legal challenges are extremely
rare in Scotland
 Cross sector involvement and buy-in to
reforms; emphasis on partnership working
 Housing options approach and
‘maturation’ of culture of service provision
 Irish approach partnership and consensus,
[we need] very robust systems of
what is expected from each service…
with the goal of achieving consensus
we maybe lose out a little bit on that’
(Service provider, Dublin)
[it’s] absolutely not about the
fact [that homeless
households have] got a right
to go to court… it is
(LA manager, Scotland)
everyone is… fighting their
own corner, for their
(Service provider, Dublin)
organisational needs tend
to take precedence over
the needs of service users
(Service provider, Dublin)
 Legal rights offer the potential to prioritise meeting the housing
needs of homeless households over other policy objectives
 They do so whilst mitigating the stigma of homelessness,
casting homeless men as ‘entitled rights holders’
 Legal rights ‘empower’, in the sense that they bolster assertive
and demanding attitudes and high expectations and support the
view that these are legitimate among professionals
 Perverse incentives are ‘sharper’ in Scotland because the
statutory system successfully prioritises according to need
 Legal rights create clear parameters within which consensual,
partnership driven work can take place

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