ALLAN MALLINSON asks for facts, about whether homeless ex-Servicemen who fell through the net of the excellent charities, could not get beds in shelters because these were full of Poles and Somalis.
My piece earlier this week on homeless ex-Servicemen brought a big e-bag, for which I’m grateful.
One of the misconceptions about ex-Servicemen appears to be that they all have a pension, and therefore shouldn’t need charity. But as ‘Essex Boy’ points out in his comment, ‘Most of us who have served less than the "full career" of 22 years will not receive any form of pension until we reach 60.’
The rules have recently changed, but most homeless ex-Servicemen will not have qualified under the new scheme, which, for information (and straight from the MoD website) is this: ‘After two years of Regular service you'll have earned an Army pension that will be paid when you get to the age of 65. And if you serve for 12 years you'll be entitled to a tax-free resettlement grant on retirement too. Anybody aged over 40 who has served for at least 18 years gets the right to claim an immediate pension and tax-free lump sum on leaving the Army, and a second lump sum when they turn 65.’
One or two comments questioned the percentage of homeless who are ex-Services. What I wrote was: ‘I had known that perhaps up to 25% of the homeless were veterans’.
Note the ‘perhaps’ and ‘up to’.
The fact is, nobody really knows. The methodology of ‘research’ is questionable, for the nature of the problem hardly lends itself to comprehensiveness.
In 1994, Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, published a report that suggested that ‘up to 25 per cent of men and women living rough in our major cities are former service personnel’.
Only twelve years ago, it believed there were ‘100,000 homeless ex-servicemen – equivalent to the population of Dover.’
The current estimates of total homeless (including what is called the ‘hidden homeless’) varies between 500,000 and a million.
But nobody really knows.
Crisis have been in this business a long time. The charity was founded in 1967 in response to Ken Loach’s remarkable BBC ‘Wednesday Play’ Cathy Come Home – which I well recall seeing at the time of its broadcast, when I was a young ordinand, before leaving the seminary to join the Army.
That figure – ‘up to 25 per cent’ – was controversial at the time; institutionally it did not sit comfortably with the MoD’s message of commitment to the man in uniform. It took some time to sink in, but ten years ago (while I was still in the Army) my old friend and colleague, and intensely humane soldier, Lieutenant-General Anthony Palmer, became the MoD’s deputy director of personnel, and he initiated a number of reforms and initiatives, notably Project Compass.
There is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that the situation has improved markedly.
But a study by York University – quoted by a number of commenters – suggesting that former service personnel in London's homeless population had dropped from 22% in 1997 to 6% in 2007 always seemed to me improbable.
Percentage shifts of that order in so short a time – in almost any field of human activity – are counter to both intuition and general experience.
That said, according to a recent Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) report, the number of people officially classed as homeless in England has jumped by 14% – the biggest increase for nine years.
The Royal British Legion (RBL), the principal ex-Services charity, believes the figure of homeless ex-Servicemen may be down to approximately 1,100, and that this is due to ‘a combination of reduced output from the Armed Forces, improved Ministry of Defence (MoD) resettlement provision and better intervention from ex-Service charities.’
This is an astonishing figure (though relatively low, still the equivalent of two infantry battalions, however) – a reduction of 90% in the Crisis figure in just twelve years.
Nevertheless a decrease in ex-Service homeless while at the same time the number of non-ex-Service (including immigrant) homeless increases considerably, leads (mathematically) to a much smaller percentage figure of ex-Service homeless.
This doesn’t necessarily mean a significant reduction of ex-Servicemen sleeping rough. I can only leave readers to make of all this what they can.
But the point of my blog was not percentages, or even actual numbers: it was to flag up, and ask for facts, about whether homeless ex-Servicemen who fell through the net of the excellent charities, many of them relatively new, could not get beds in shelters because these were full of Poles and Somalis.
For this was what the particular homeless Ex had told my friend, the former diplomat, who works part-time for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and who had had corroborating reports to this effect from colleagues in the charity sector.
I also said that destitute immigrants needed help, the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan being that he did not differentiate between race or creed when it came to need.
But my point was that charity can be ‘misplaced’ – if I can use the word as shorthand – if it is to the detriment of the national family. I refuse to argue this point: if it is not self-evident, then my powers of persuasion will not be up to changing anyone’s mind.
There was an interesting comment on the blog from the CEO of the charity Thames Reach, which I confess I had never heard of – and neither, it seems, had the particular Ex or the people at the various agencies who sign-posted him on to Shelter – although it was set up by the GLC in 1984. I am glad to be now aware of their work: ‘Many ex-services personnel have been helped off of the street. Some of them work for Thames Reach, a homelessness charity where I am CEO. They are fantastic role models’ writes the CEO.
He goes on to say that ‘Hostels are not packed full of non-UK nationals such as Poles and Rumanians as the vast majority are not able to claim benefits (in the jargon of the day 'have no recourse to public funds').’
I would be the first to confess my ignorance here, but surely there is some confusion: entry to a hostel is not restricted to those claiming benefits.
But he gives an encouraging account of the sort of practical and robust charity needed by destitute immigrants: ‘There are indeed many non-UK rough sleepers on the street - around 52% of the rough sleeping population, and they are living in the most appalling destitution. Supported by the Embassies, we at Thames Reach have assisted over 1700 to return to central and eastern Europe.’
I salute Thames Reach. In this they have been true Samaritans.
But I go back to the essence of the blog, which was about whether our charitable capacity is being overwhelmed by immigrants to the disadvantage of – in particular – our own ex-Servicemen.
Because the problem is going to get worse – vide the DCLG report of a 14% increase in homelessness.
And not just that, for if, as the RBL believes, the reduction in numbers of ex-Service homeless is in part due to ‘reduced output from the Armed Forces’, it stands to sense that there will be an increase when the output itself increases – as it is about to do in a big way because of the redundancies, perhaps some 30,000; and one that has the potential of overloading the resources of the service charities across the board on a whole range of welfare concerns.
But I shall leave the last word to Stephen, the ex-soldier whose story prompted the blog. Last night when I returned from London to Salisbury Plain, I found this email in my box via Mail Online. I will let it speak for itself:
‘I have just read your blog. It is actually me who the article is written about. I wanted to thankyou for taking an interest in my plight and the plight of so many other service men and women who find themselves in simmilar circumstances.
Whilst being homeless i have experienced human kindness at its very best and also how cruel some people can actually be.
I have found myself judged negativly on a daily basis for just being a homless male, i have been called a liar a fraud, i have been urinated on whilst i slept, assaulted on several occassions spat at, had laxitives put in cups of tea and food peiople have brought for me.
All of this has happened without people knowing how i ended up on the street in the first place.
All i will say is it involved a house fire and the death of my wife and two children.
I do not drink or take drugs of any kind and yet daily i am treated like an animal.
I can truly understand how so many ex service personel end up taking there lives when they find themselves homeless and tarnished with a label saying "Scum-bag".
Thanks again for writing the article and many many thanks to your kind friend who has shown me that human kindness does still exist in some people.
Be Blessed . Stephen.’