Sleeping out to raise awareness of homelessness in Lynn

A group sleeping outside near Blue Inc in the centre of King's Lynn, on one of the coldest nights this winter. ANL-160119-072043009

A group sleeping outside near Blue Inc in the centre of King's Lynn, on one of the coldest nights this winter. ANL-160119-072043009

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Campaigners took to the streets of Lynn on one of the coldest nights of the winter so far to help raise awareness of the plight of the homeless.

Activists say they fear many more people may be forced onto the streets if ministers do not review the impact of forthcoming benefit reforms.

But the Government says falls in unemployment vindicate their approach, despite a rise in the borough’s claimant count.

As temperatures fell below zero on Monday night, staff from the Genesis Housing Association were joined by former clients and members of the North West Norfolk constituency Labour Party (CLP) for the sleep-out.

Genesis provides emergency overnight accommodation at two sites in Lynn under a severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP). The procedure allows people who are known to be sleeping rough to spend the night in communal areas of its buildings in Merchants Terrace, off London Road, and Gaywood Road.

CLP secretary Jo Rust said the event was intended to raise public awareness both of the situation faced by those sleeping rough in the winter and the support offered by Genesis.

But she is worried about how the government’s new universal credit benefit payment system, which is due to be rolled out in West Norfolk in March, will affect recipients.

The Government maintains the new system is simpler, fairer and encourages people to either take a job or increase their working hours.

But Mrs Rust said the fact that money which was previously used to pay housing benefit, and was paid directly to housing providers like Genesis to cover rents, will now go to claimants is likely to create more problems.

She said: “People who live chaotic lives aren’t going to see a priority to pay their rent.

“It’s going to lead to more people being evicted for rent arrears.”

The sleep-out was held on the eve of the publication of the latest unemployment figures, which showed a rise in the number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) in West Norfolk.

The figure stood at 826 in December, up 26 on the previous month following the first rise in almost a year.

But the overall rate of unemployment is estimated to have fallen to 4.6 per cent of the total workforce based on the year to the end of September, its lowest level since March 2008.

East Anglia also has the second highest rate of employment in the country at 77.7 per cent.

Employment minister 
Pritti Patel said: “There are now more people in work than ever before and wages are growing consistently.”