English, maths – and homelessness
Authors: Daniel Dumoulin
Senior Policy and Research Officer at St Mungo’s Broadway
25 June 2014
At an event in the House of Lords last week, Tracy explained how being unable to read a housing benefit form led to her becoming homeless. Six months pregnant at the time, she didn’t know what the form was and so put it in a drawer and forgot about it. She then found herself unable to pay the rent and ended up sleeping on trains with her child and dog. She lost custody of her daughter and ended up on the streets.
Things have got better for Tracy. Through her own determination, and with the support of St Mungo’s Broadway, she has developed the English skills and self confidence needed to write, learn and deliver a moving speech to a room full of ministers, peers, MPs , and chief executives.
The event was the launch of a new report called Reading Counts. This was produced by St Mungo’s Broadway, with The Work Foundation, and sets out the challenges around English and maths skills faced by people who are homeless. The report’s main finding is that over half of those surveyed lack basic English skills – that is, they would not achieve a grade G at GCSE.
Reading Counts shows that Tracy’s story is exceptional, not only because of the terrifying experiences which she has survived, but also because she was able to improve her English skills.
Despite an Adult Skills budget which stands at £4.1 billion, people who are homeless struggle to find learning opportunities that will enable them to develop basic English and maths skills.
As The Work Foundation’s Katy Jones points out, the adult skills funding system makes payments based on course completion and qualification attainment. People who are homeless are less likely to complete courses and gain qualifications. Learning providers therefore believe that working with people who are homeless leads to unacceptable financial risks. This prevents providers from offering the specialised learning opportunities which are often required by people who are homeless.
The good news is that the Government and Opposition have pledged to take action on this issue.
Minister for Skills and Enterprise Matthew Hancock said: “There is an absolutely clear commitment from the Government that we are going to put right this historic gap in government policy...We will make sure we do everything in our power to put this right.”
Liam Byrne, Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills, said: "Adult education ... can reverse the fortunes of those who have found themselves homeless. I look forward to working with St Mungo's Broadway in taking their recommendations further."
St Mungo’s Broadway will not be complacent. We will hold the Government and Opposition to account on these pledges and do whatever we can to help deliver them.
It is unacceptable that people are trapped in homelessness, and excluded from so much of modern life, because the system has failed, and continues to fail, to support them to develop these basic skills.
These skills enable people who are homeless to improve their health, their work prospects and to find and sustain a home – in short, as Tracy is doing - to rebuild their lives.
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