Frontline homelessness staff pushed to brink as Welsh government accused of breaking promises

Vital frontline homelessness services will collapse next month unless the government intervenes, with campaigners stating that more rough sleepers will die if nothing is done.

ITV News Wales Reporter Rhys Williams reports as campaign groups accuse first minister Mark Drakeford of rowing back on his manifesto pledge

The Welsh government has been accused of breaking its promise to pay workers in the housing and homelessness sector the real living wage.

The commitment was part of Welsh Labour’s manifesto at the last Senedd election, but furious campaigners say First Minister Mark Drakeford has turned his back on the pledge.

Charities are warning not only will they be unable to staff frontline services but many of their own workers are being pushed into homelessness.

Mark Drakeford pledged to deliver a Real Living Wage to social care staff in 2021, and cabinet minister Julie James later confirmed this would apply to housing support workers.

Local Authorities were provided with funding by the Welsh government to give Social Care workers a pay rise in 2022, but homeless and housing charities have not been given funding to increase the pay of their staff.

Last year the Welsh government committed to end all forms of homelessness as part of a co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, but charities are warning this task will not be possible without more funding.

More than 40% of frontline service providers are warning they will have to hand back contracts this year, leading to concerns the entire system could collapse.

Mark Drakeford had pledged a Real Living Wage for social care staff in 2021. Credit: ITV News

The Welsh government says it recognises the immense pressures facing the sector which is why it’s frozen the Housing Support Grant rather than cut it, it added the government was committed to increasing the wages of housing support workers “as soon as we are able.”

Dr Lindsay Cordery-Bruce, CEO of Wales’s biggest homelessness charity, The Wallich, told ITV News she had already been forced to cut jobs and that another freeze would put vital services at risk.

“We’re seeing a massive increase in homelessness, and not the services that are able to match it. We’re going to see an increase in rough sleeping, were going to see an increase in human distress, and it ultimately just completely undermines the Welsh government’s drive to end homelessness.”

The Housing Support Grant (HSG), which funds homelessness services in Wales, has been frozen since 2021, resulting in frontline worker wages falling below the upcoming minimum wage increase in April.

The Welsh government intends the freeze the grant once again when its budget is published on February 27.

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In a recent survey by the bodies representing housing and homeless service providers, 86% of workers said they were not putting on the heating in order to save money, 56% were struggling to pay bills, 18% were struggling to pay their rent, while 12% were feeling at greater risk of homelessness.

Katie Dalton, Director of Cymorth Cymru, said: “Fair work and the Real Living Wage were at the heart of Welsh Labour’s election manifesto and Programme for government, and we were promised that homelessness and housing support workers would be included in the Real Living Wage commitment.

“Since then, the sector has not received a penny more in funding to deliver this pledge. It is unacceptable that workers who do such skilled, complex and traumatic jobs are paid so little, and it is intolerable that the very people who are tasked with preventing homelessness are being pushed closer to homelessness and poverty themselves."

Funding freezes from the Welsh government threaten to push frontline homelessness staff into poverty themselves. Credit: ITV News

Rhea Stevens, head of policy and external affairs at Community Housing Cymru, said: “The housing crisis is pushing more and more people towards homelessness already. To see the very people who have dedicated their careers to providing the life-changing help that others need being at risk of significant hardship too is wholly unacceptable.”

Charities wrote to the first minister three weeks ago to urge him to take action, and received a response this morning in which he said the Welsh government has had to make “stark and painful decisions”.

While acknowledging the “important work that the homelessness and housing support workforce do,” he did not commit to providing funding to enable charities to pay their staff the Real Living Wage of £12 an hour.

Katie Dalton of Cymorth Cymru told ITV News the response “failed to address the shocking evidence we shared with the first minister.“We are angry and disappointed on behalf of frontline homelessness and housing support workers, who deserve far greater respect and recognition from the Welsh government.”

In its recent scrutiny of the Welsh government’s draft budget, The Senedd’s Local government and Housing Committee recommended that “The Welsh government must make providing additional funding for the Housing Support Grant allocation ahead of the final budget a priority and should explore all possible options for doing so”.A Welsh government spokesperson said: “We recognise the immense pressures facing frontline housing support services and the importance of their work.

“This is why we have protected the Housing Support Grant in our recent budget so that it remains at £166.7m, despite the extraordinarily difficult budgetary position.

“Ministers faced an incredibly difficult task in setting a budget for next year. Dialogue continues with key stakeholders to consider how we can work collaboratively to deliver our shared ambition to end homelessness in Wales.”

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