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?