In recognition of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty ERSA asked Dan Dumoulin from St Mungo’s Broadway and Michael Fothergill from Crisis to talk about their work supporting homeless poeple to develop basic skills which can help them to move themselves out of poverty. 

What do we mean by poverty in the UK in 2014? As this debate continues, perhaps we should be looking for ways to come together to support action that takes people out of poverty, however we define it.

Few would disagree that homelessness is a strong indicator of poverty. After all, one of the most fundamental of human needs is having access to shelter. It’s therefore worth reminding ourselves that Government figures tell us 2,414 people slept rough on one night in autumn last year, and 6,508 people were seen rough sleeping in London alone in 2013/14.

Surely there must be also a consensus that people need certain basic skills to move themselves out of poverty. Skills such as being able to read, do basic maths and, increasingly, being able to use a computer and access the internet are needed not only to find a job, but also to receive Government support with living costs for those not in work.

Yet recent research shows that 51 per cent of the people living in projects run by homelessness charity St Mungo’s Broadway lack basic (Level 1) reading and writing skills.

The good news is that the Government is supporting Crisis and St Mungo’s Broadway to deliver specialist pre-employment basic skills training to people who have experienced homelessness. The independently evaluated STRIVE pilot project is working with a minimum of 100 people over two years. It aims to demonstrate how specialist homelessness service providers, with staff who have the skills and expertise to work with of one of the most marginalised groups in society, are often best placed to support people who are homeless to build basic skills and move towards employment.

But there are thousands of people who are homeless and desperately need to improve their skills. There is a need for much more specialist basic skills support to be available for people who are homeless, mainstream adult education often simply doesn’t work for this group.

Developing basic skills helps people to recover from homelessness, whether through being able to read a tenancy agreement and so keep a home, or through developing budgeting skills to pay rent. Without these skills the people St Mungo’s Broadway and Crisis work with are more likely to find themselves trapped in a cycle of homelessness and unemployment.

St Mungo’s Broadway and Crisis have worked with ERSA and the Give Us A Chance consortium to develop the Housing and Work Manifesto, which will be launched in Parliament on October 21st. The Manifesto sets out how Government can enable housing and employment support service providers to work together to enable people to build skills and move towards employment.

As political parties finalise their manifestos, we hope they take note of these ideas to improve the employability of those who are homeless and vulnerably housed. Together we must do more to support the most disadvantaged members of our society to move out of poverty through finding and keeping a job and a home. We would like the political parties not only to commit to funding the STRIVE pilot beyond 2015/16, but to make clear commitments to funding larger scale employment programmes that work for those who need to the most support to enter work.