Interview with Jenny Westaway, Crisis Campaigns Manager

Q. What is your background in campaign work?

I personally got involved in campaigning when I was a teenager just because there were issues I cared about and felt quite strongly that people taking individual and collective action could change that. I still do. I got into campaigning as a job via journalism – I started out working as a journalist, then moved to do press work for a women’s rights charity and gradually my role has expanded to also take on enabling charity supporters to have their say and direct lobbying of politicians and other changemakers.

Q. Do you feel that the issues surrounding homelessness have higher upthe political Agenda?

In one sense yes. I think politicians have a better understanding of the complexity of homelessness nowadays – that it’s not just about putting a roof over someone’s head, it’s also about looking at all the other factors that have led to someone’s homelessness, from personal issues such as relationship breakdown or substance abuse to structural issues such as the lack of affordable and social housing. And I think some politicians now grasp that if you spend money combating homelessness, you’ll save money elsewhere, such as health costs. That’s down to the work of charities like Crisis and others in bringing this to the fore.

But it’s also the case that as gains have been made over the past ten years in bringing down the numbers of rough sleepers on the streets, thanks to the work of charities and Government, the issue of homelessness has receded from the public’s consciousness too – and it’s the public mood which sets the political agenda. So it’s a challenge for us to keep saying as loud as possible to as many people as possible that it’s vital to end rough sleeping, but that rough sleeping is the rip of the iceberg.

Q. What has been the response from the opposition parties to the

issues raised by Crisis nationally?

Crisis is politically neutral, but we are in contact with the main opposition parties and always challenging them to commit to what they would do to tackle homelessness. The response varies by issue and by party, but now as we are approaching the general election it is time for all parties to lay out detailed plans – warm words are no longer enough.

Q. What is Crisis currently campaigning on at moment?

Crisis has a number of key campaigns at the moment. The most immediate is our campaign for better protection for tenants at risk of being turned out onto the streets if their landlord is repossessed – even though they have kept up with the rent, they have no rights if their landlord has failed to follow procedure with his or her mortgage company. There’s a piece of legislation going through parliament at the moment that would protect the 324,000 tenants at risk, but there’s not much time to get it through before the general election, so we’re pushing that.

We’re also very concerned about the response that homeless people get when they approach their local council for help. And undercover investigation we carried out showed they are often turned away without even advice, which they should be getting even if they are not entitled to accommodation. So we’re campaigning for two things here – for local government to ensure it’s giving people the proper support they are entitled to and for central government to widen the safety net so that everyone in the future is entitled to at the very least emergency accommodation.

Crisis is also calling for reform of housing benefit – too often housing benefit recipients who are willing and able to work find that it just won’t pay because of the effect it has on their benefit. This is deeply frustrating to many homeless people who have made the journey out of homelessness to find that they can’t then take the step of getting a job. The Government has said they’ll look at this and the opposition parties agree that something needs to be done – now it’s just a case of making it happen, which is easier said than done!

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