DEBBIE Abrahams, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has shown her support for Emmaus Mossley as it works to overcome the challenges presented by the Government’s welfare reforms.
Mrs Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, visited Emmaus Mossley’s Longlands Mill base along with Jonathan Reynolds, MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, who is also calling for exemptions to be made to the new legislation.
Mrs Abrahams and Mr Reynolds had a tour of the Emmaus Mossley social enterprise, meeting with beneficiaries and staff to discuss homelessness and welfare reform.
Emmaus companion, Kris Wookey, took the MPs on a tour of the community and explained how Emmaus had helped him when he was homeless: “Emmaus is my life – it has given me confidence and a purpose each day,” he said.
“It was a pleasure to show Debbie and Jonathan how big our operation is and the many ways in which we support the wider community and how they support us.”
Mrs Abrahams and Mr Reynolds were joined on the visit by Ward Councillors Jack Homer and Frank Travis, who were told the community that supports 26 formerly homeless people could be set to lose almost a third of its income when Universal Credit is rolled out to include supported accommodation.
Mrs Abrahams is calling for Emmaus’s 29 communities nationally that offer 760 rooms for the homeless to be exempted by the new legislation.
She said: “Along with many other MPs I’ve been dealing with emergency homelessness cases where constituents have contacted us because they have nowhere to go.
“I was very impressed with the work Emmaus does in helping support people who’ve experienced homelessness and it was heart-warming to meet some of the people who’ve had the chance to re-build their lives.
“If, as a nation, we’re going to tackle the issue of homelessness the onus is on the Government to do more to address the root causes.
“Under the last Labour government, rough sleeping fell by 75 per cent between 1997-2010 and statutory homelessness was reduced by nearly two-thirds.
“This Government should be building more affordable housing; acting on soaring private rental costs; re-thinking the crude cuts to housing benefit and addressing the impact of universal credit on the most vulnerable.”
The two key principles behind Universal Credit are to simplify the benefits system and ensure that work pays, but Mrs Abrahams learned it was not designed for night shelters, refuges and organisations like Emmaus, YMCA, Salvation Army and Riverside.
Mr Reynolds, Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury, said: “Emmaus does incredible work which turns around the lives of volunteers and deeply enhances the whole Mossley community. If the roll out of universal credit threatens the future of this brilliant social enterprise that would be a disaster – this is exactly the sort of organisation the government should value and promote.
“It’s also a false economy, as Emmaus saves the taxpayer money in a number of ways. I look forward to meeting the minister to discuss this and hope he will be receptive.”
Emmaus Mossley supports 26 formerly homeless people by providing them with a home and work in a community setting. The charity runs a social enterprise in Mossley, selling donated and upcycled furniture, household goods, clothes, bric-a-brac and vintage wares.
Frances Hirst, chair of Emmaus Mossley, said: “We were delighted to welcome both Jonathan and Debbie to our community and extremely grateful that they took the time to discuss some important welfare reform issues that affect the people we support.
“We are immensely proud of the work we do to support ourselves through our social enterprise and what we are able to give back to society.
“There is no doubt that the proposed changes to welfare will have a major impact on the work we do, the vulnerable people we support and increase pressure on already stretched public services.”
Under Universal Credit, applicants will be assessed for all benefits whereas Emmaus ‘companions’ currently only claim housing benefit and nothing else.
Emmaus is specified accommodation, but the requirement for residents to work and thereby support themselves makes it fundamentally different from all other supported housing provision.
When specified accommodation loses its exemption from the provisions of Universal Credit in April 2019, Emmaus residents will be adversely affected.
They will be forced to job search and accept the first job they are offered. However, while Emmaus residents are theoretically capable of work, they are unlikely to be able to sustain employment without significant support that Emmaus does not have the resources to offer.
Upon accepting employment, residents would have to move on from Emmaus as they would not be able to contribute to the work of the community. But many of the residents are at Emmaus because they have not been able to independently manage a tenancy.
If this happens, it is likely many residents would be set up to fail, exacerbating the problems that led them to come to Emmaus in the first place and potentially cost the state significantly more.
There is a danger that Emmaus communities would have to close because under Universal Credit the claimant would be required to search for a minimum of 35 hours work each week meaning it would lose its workforce and potentially putting hundreds of people back on the streets at a time when homelessness is increasing at a rapid rate.
To find out more or support Emmaus Mossley head online to: www.emmaus.org.uk/mossley
To get involved or donate an item, call 01457 838608 or visit the store at Longlands Mill, Queen Street, Mossley, OL5 9AH.