Former rough sleeping adviser calls for vaccinations for homelessness staff

The former head of the Government’s Covid-19 rough sleeping taskforce has called for staff in the homelessness sector to be prioritised for vaccines.

Dame Louise Casey, who was appointed to lead the taskforce in May but stepped back from the role in August, said conditions in the sector had become “relentless and more challenging” as the pandemic has continued.

She told MPs: “In the same way that we are hearing loud and clear, and rightly so, about fatigue within the National Health Service, I think I would say there is the level of relentlessness, fear and fatigue in many of the homelessness organisations, many of whom are dealing with people who clearly have very significant drug, alcohol and mental health problems who can’t self-isolate and so on.”

Dame Louise (pictured) later called for workers in the sector to be prioritised for Covid-19 vaccinations, saying that staff in the hotels where homeless people have been housed are “putting themselves so at risk”.

She told the Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government committee: “Care homes should have those vaccinations but they’re sitting in a chair or they’re in bed, you know they’re compliant, they’re not people banging off the walls refusing to self isolate.

“We’re putting workers at harm at the moment by not getting those people high enough up the queue with vaccinations.”

Homelessness charities have urged the Government to treat those working in the sector as a priority occupation for the vaccines in the next phase of the rollout.

The national membership charity for frontline homelessness groups, Homeless Link, wrote to vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi earlier this month.

Dame Louise was later asked about the Government’s policy of no recourse to public funds (NRPF).

NRPF is a standard condition applied to people staying in the UK with a temporary immigration status which means they cannot access most state financial support, benefits like Universal Credit, child benefit and housing benefit, as well as a range of other allowances and tax credits.

The Government has made people with NRPF eligible for the Job Retention Scheme and provided emergency funding to councils, but the policy has been criticised by charities.

Dame Louise was asked whether it was right to enforce the NRPF policy during the pandemic.

She said: “I think as long as the virus is, to be honest, as prevalent as it is right now, I find it hard to think that we wouldn’t put a roof over people’s heads during the pandemic.

“I think it’s a matter of political decision-making about what one does with people who have no recourse to public funds because the balanced way of looking at this pre-pandemic is if people come here and know those are the terms, then it’s very difficult to then reverse those terms.”

She continued: “But if somebody is on the street or in a communal night shelter and they cannot self-isolate, we’re putting that person’s life at risk and nobody in this country, of any political persuasion, wants people to die.”

Dame Louise stressed the need to count the number of homeless people who are legally in UK with no recourse to public funds, suggesting a possible amnesty if the figures are low.

She said: “Out of the 10,000 people that are still in these emergency hotels and other forms of accommodation, if the figures are like two to three thousand, is it honestly worth it?

“The administration involved with all of that, there’s a part of me that thinks if the numbers are that low, just declare an amnesty and let’s move on.

“But of course if the numbers are huge … then that’s a different thing.”

A Government spokesperson said: “No recourse to public funds is a long-standing position developed over many years by successive governments.

“An amnesty would not be right, but we have taken decisive action to support people through this pandemic and many measures including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can still be accessed by those without recourse to public funds.”

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