Oxford Students to protest proposed housing cuts

A C+ Investigations survey has found that over 85 per cent of Oxford students polled oppose proposed cuts to housing support services by Oxfordshire County Council. The cuts could represent as much as 65 per cent of the budget, and will be discussed by the council on January 26th. Various Oxford based groups plan on holding a protest outside the County Hall on that day.

The proposed measure could reduce Housing Related Support by £1.5m from 2017, on top of a 38 per cent cut in 2014. Oxford Homeless Pathways, a major provider of Housing Related Support in Oxford, has indicated that the cuts would lead to the closure of O’Hanlon House in Luther Street and Simon House in Paradise Street. In general, Housing Related Support funds services which help people to remain in their homes when problems arise. It also provides accommodation-based services such as hostel beds and specialist support for people taking their first steps out of homelessness.  

Lesley Dewhurst, Chief Executive of Oxford Homeless Pathways, claimed that the proposed cuts would hit the most vulnerable hardest, telling Cherwell, “The people who use these services are among the most vulnerable people in our society – those with severe and enduring mental health problems, addiction issues, physical health problems, young and old. Any loss of preventative and resettlement support, or beds and specialist support in hostels, will have disastrous effects.”
 
Clare Ellis, who recently moved out of homelessness with the help of Oxford Homeless Pathways’ provision, said, “I can’t imagine how my family would have survived without the support of the homeless organisations. If these cuts go ahead, our prisons, streets and hospitals will be pushed to breaking point. What does this say about our humanity?”
 
The C+ Investigations team has found that issues of the humanity of the cuts have inspired a number of students to join the protests planned for Tuesday. In particular, the Chair of OUSU’s On Your Doorstep campaign, Jacob Vivian, has expressed to Cherwell about his concern about the direction of the potential spending decisions. Jacob asked, “Whatever good, financially-plausible, and ‘sensible’ reasons there are for making cuts, should we sit back while the disenfranchised in our society, the homeless, have their lifelines taken away from them?”

Amidst growing unease about the County Council cuts, Labour City Councillor Mike Rowley has stated, “We’re now in a situation where the rough sleeper count, a snapshot of how many people are sleeping in the open on a particular night, has gone up by 50 per cent in a year, from 26 to 39. I’m deeply concerned that the Government’s various benefit and funding cuts are increasing the problem, while leaving local Councils without the resources we need to deal with it.”

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Speaking out against criticism, County Council spokesman Chris Birdsall noted that cutting the Housing Related Support budget was one option out of over 90 covering all areas of funding. He added, “It is not a final decision. It is not yet even a proposal – it’s an option. Housing Related Support is not a legal requirement for the county council. Providing social care for those with assessed care needs is a legal requirement. Our focus has to be on providing services that we are legally obliged to provide.”

As debate continues, C+ has investigated the voluntary services to a degree dependent on Oxford University student participation, which may witness the effects of these planned changes on the homeless population.

On the same day as the measures are due to be discussed, On Your Doorstep will be taking part in a protest outside the County Hall at 1pm. On the event’s Facebook page, it says, “This will be a PEACEFUL rally. We want to come together not to cause trouble, but to stand together as a united front and to impress upon the County Council that endless budget cuts in Oxfordshire are unreasonable and are putting vital services and vulnerable people at risk.”

A petition is being promoted online.