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Gordon Brown – the new Gladstone?


As we all know, William Gladstone walked the streets of London, even while Prime Minister (1868–74, 1880–85, 1886 and 1892–94), seeking out fallen women to rescue, whether they wanted to be rescued or not.

What Gladstone did when he accosted a prostitute was to offer her a place to sleep, protection from any bully or “mackerel” who might be exploiting her, and an opportunity to think over the following handsome proposition: If she wished to do so, on due consideration, she could go to the home or hostel Gladstone helped to maintain, to stay there, eating three square meals a day and receiving any medical attention she might need, until she was in a fit state to take up the job that Gladstone’s assistants and associates undertook to find for her. If the prostitute found any of this attractive, Gladstone would escort her to his home where she would spend the night under Mrs. Gladstone’s care. [Anthony West. From the New York Review of Books]

Gordon Brown, in a rather less directly hands on manner, has announced ‘supervised homes’ for 16 and 17 year old mothers.

From his conference speech:

And I do think it’s time to address a problem that for too long has gone unspoken, the number of children having children. For it cannot be right, for a girl of sixteen, to get pregnant, be given the keys to a council flat and be left on her own.

From now on all 16 and 17 year old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes. These shared homes will offer not just a roof over their heads, but a new start in life where they learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly. That’s better for them, better for their babies and better for us all in the long run. [full speech here]

The briefing is that this means that any 16 or 17 year old mother who seeks local authority housing or applies as homeless will get a place in these supervised homes.

What Gordon actually meant, however, has been the subject of some debate, with many seeing this as an embrace of the Daily Mail worldview. One brave soul insists that Gordon wasn’t suggesting that teenagers become pregnant as a means of getting housing of their own, which sits oddly, to say the least, with the first line quoted above.

But, while the rhetoric was undoubtedly aimed at the Mail, I wonder instead about whether this is an effective or adequate means to the end sought.

If we are charitable, what is being said is that 16 and 17 year olds with a child or children need help and support in independent living and looking after their children. That strikes me as pretty much indisputable in general, whether the support is from family or others.

But why is the 16/17 year old seeking local authority housing assistance the filter or trigger point for this?

Some, perhaps many, of those seeking housing assistance are doing so simply because there is no way they can be accommodated with their family, but they still have the full aid of their family in supporting themselves and their child as much as if they remained at the family home. Others will remain in the family home, thus outside the new scheme, but lack any support from their family in learning how to look after themselves and their child. Others yet will be outside the family home, lack support but not applying for local authority housing.

A more nuanced approach may come in a developed bill, if one happens, but from Gordon’s speech it appears that housing is being used as a trigger in a thoroughly indiscriminate way, when what is perhaps more properly at issue is a social services duty (s.17 or s.20 Children Act, particularly).

We have noted the all too frequent lack of effective integration between housing and social services departments on under 18 year olds, and ensuing case law, on many occasions on this blog, and of course, these may be departments belonging to different local authorities altogether. On that view, anything that integrates housing support and support in independent living and childcare is potentially a good thing. But at first sight, the plan put forward by our new Gladstone will miss many of those in need of support while imposing it on others who aren’t. Still, the sound bite must have been irresistable.

And then, leaving aside the inevitable questions over funding and delivery, what happens at 18? Will there be a pathway to social housing and if so, in what form?

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.


  1. HD

    Funding is the first thing to consider.

    A single mother, not working, with 3 kids pulls in £25-30k pa off the taxpayer. National average gross wage outside London is probably £20k.

    Can. Not. Continue.

    The new social housing is going to come from the mortgage rescue scheme when it really gets motoring: government underwrites 80% of a doomed mortgage and rescues … the lender, which writes off the loss it bears and pays no tax on profits from investment banking. Taxpayer ends up with a very expensive stock of housing.

    • NL

      HD – what has this got to do with the Gordon Brown homes for teenage mothers?

      • HD


        Aren’t these known as Magdalene laundries in Ireland?

        Thought it might be useful for the people involved (comparing them to prostitutes??) to know their prospects as graduates of Gordon’s preparatory schools.

        Otherwise – I’m sick of NuLabour policy on the family, and frightened by the fantasies they pursue in the housing and credit markets.

        • NL

          You are not the first to invoke the Magdalene laundries – check the links.

          Personally, although I trust my record would indicate I’m no friend of Mandelson, I’m tired of the ‘NuLabour’ moniker. Sad to say it seems to be a reliable indicator that whatever follows by the same writer will be devoid of any actual thought. I’m not so blinkered as to assume that there are no exceptions, of course…

        • HD

          Lawks. A very NuLab dismissal.

          No comment on how to pay? On the funding by the taxpayer of families that will require more and more benefits as they grow beyond the female borstal?

          Your post indulged in comment on policy, so forgive me for responding with heart. I guess we should stick to the law – hah!

          Every week I see the necessary abuse of the effort to provide everything for everyone. People who work for a living should despair, except they have credit lines to keep them motoring and debt management companies to keep them from crashing. I guess sterling will provide for us all in the end. Until it collapses.

          Don’t you foresee exponential demands on the people who pay for this?

  2. NL

    HD, as you may have noticed, this is a housing law blog. Where I do stray into windy, content-lite posturing, I at least have the decency to try to make it amusing. Please consider this an unwritten rule if you feel the need to indulge yourself in this way again.

    Otherwise , thanks for adding another data point for my ‘use of NuLab’ hypothesis.

    • HD

      “Try to make it amusing” – really?

      • NL

        I made no claim to be successful.

        • HD

          True. Very true.

  3. Jim Paton

    Indeed, HD’s rant seems to have little or nothing to do with the topic. Is it suggested that the mythical single mother with three children is going to be aged 16 or 17?

    That is, however, no more fantastical than the figures HD’s trots out. Making the most optimistic assumptions, including the unlikely one that the woman has been claiming continuously since 1998 and is therefore entitled to transitional protection (it’s virtually impossible to stay on jobseekers allowance that long nowadays), the maximum I calculate she can get is £12,996 pa, plus Housing Benefit. Most will get less than this. Even if she’s paying a high housing association rent, rather than a council one, Housing Benefit is unlikly to raise the total over £20,000.

    Claimants of jobseekers allowance (or equivalent) in the 1980s were paid, on average, 22% of average nation earnings. It’s now 10.5%.

    Oh, and if your mythical single mother does live in London, the benefits she gets won’t be a penny more. It’s the same rate +HB wherever you live. No London weighting for her, despite the fact that most things cost more.

    Don’t worry about Gordon Brown pandering to the Daily Mail, however. Just another finger-pointing, “let’s all hate these people” conference stunt aimed at garnering votes from the ignorant and misanthropic. It would be even more costly than the fictional situation emanating from HD’s fevered imagination. Therefore we’d be unlikely to hear any more of it even in the improbable event of Brown being in power a year from now. Equally nasty stuff cooking in the Tory pot -or worse- no doubt, but let’s cross bridges when we come to them. Or dismantle bridges, as the case may be.

    • HD

      Thanks for addressing the points.

      It’s not fiction, not fabrication, not fevered.

      I attend court every day. And I do see these figures submitted by single mothers on their inc/exp forms – in their own handwriting. Statement of truth!

      My hideous rant referred to funding from the taxpayer. NL doesn’t say why that’s irrelevant, nor do you.

      The calculation of £25-30k includes housing benefit/MIR and child tax credits. I can supply a breakdown – perhaps you can put me right where I go wrong, but the figures are taken from real life.

      I don’t doubt that JSA recipients are skint, but JSA is a morsel of fruit to a single mother.

      To top it all, they usually have £££k in defaulted unsecured debt paid at a token rate through debt management companies. Who’s going to carry that can?

      My point about London was that it skews the median gross annual wage, and so I had a stab at the average gross annual wage ex-London. Blame the statisticians employed at taxpayers’ expense for not supplying the actual figure.

      My worry is that ideology is trumping common sense, that the taxpayer is being loaded with enormous liabilities through a system that is essentially administered in secret. Let’s have a say about this.

      Excellent blog. The tone of the responses … not so.

      End of rant!

      • NL


        If you look carefully, you’ll see that I was the one who flagged up funding as a question for the hostels. Why you then keep asking me where I think funding is coming from is beyond me.

        Second, this is a housing law blog. I made some observations on the technicalities of this proposal. You, on the other hand, made a series of sweeping generalisation on support for ‘single mothers with 3 children’, who won’t be part of this scheme, and more broadly on welfare funding tout court, based, it now turns out, on what a few single mothers in one court put on their forms.

        The reason why nobody is giving you the response you want is twofold. This is not the place for it, and you have adopted the classic troll manoeuvre of setting up a straw man and then attacking people for not answering your questions.

        In short, do this elsewhere, not here.

        • HD

          Them’s the facts. Nobody seems capable of contradicting them. Debate over before it began. Blind ideology charges on.

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