London: Former Prisoners Housing Charity Faces Closure Over Cuts

14 Apr

A charity hailed by the Prime Minister as an example of the “Big Society” may have to close because the coalition has cut back on its funding.

 Charity Hailed By PM Faces Closure Over Cuts Play video

Video: Charity Hailed By PM Faces Closure Over Cuts

In February the managing director of Vision Housing, Annys Darqwar, met David Cameron at the re-launch of his Big Society project.

She told him about her organisation, which finds homes for former prisoners to help prevent them from re-offending.

In front of a Sky News camera, he told her: “You’re exactly the sort of organisation that I think we should be looking to work out how we try and expand.

“If you take rehabilitation of prisoners it’s a classic example of where we need a Big Society approach rather than a big state approach… your organisation is absolutely focused on what really matters to everybody in this country.”

Just two days later, Ms Darqwar discovered the Government Crisis Loans her organisation is dependent upon would now be limited and her applications were being turned down.

“I was absolutely gobsmacked,” she said.

She added: “When I left the event I was excited because of his (David Cameron’s) enthusiasm… but 48 hours later it was gone.

The Crisis Loan is imperative, not just for me but for the people we house… If this continues the way it is continuing on street level, then we would have to close down.”

For more than four years Vision Housing has found accommodation for hundreds of homeless ex-prisoners, allowing them to start a crime-free life.

Nationally re-offending rates stand at 60%. But of those “Vision Housing” has helped just 15% have returned to crime.

When Gill Gilsenan was released from prison she was helped by the organisation, but only because they were able to get a Crisis Loan.

Otherwise she would have been out on the streets.

“I went to them on my day of release. I had nowhere to live, they found me this place we got a crisis loan there and then, they got me the loan, which I never believed was possible.

“And on the same day they found me this place and I moved in, just like that. Now imagine I didn’t have Vision Housing, what would I have done on the day of my release?”

In response the Department of Work and Pensions released this statement: “Since 2000, daily spend on crisis loans has tripled to £1m a day and urgent restrictions on Crisis Loans will protect the discretionary Social Fund budget which could run out before Christmas if current spending levels continue.”

However, the charity sees itself as a long-term financial solution. 

It costs the public £40,000 a year to keep someone in prison but it costs on average £5,500 a year for Vision Housing to put an ex-offender into accommodation.

“David Cameron hasn’t thought this through,” said Ms Darqwar.

“He has stated this is what the ‘Big Society’ is about, we’re taking responsibility for our own communities.

“But if you cut the budget in the way that they are being cut for vulnerable people then these kind of projects will not exist, so the ‘Big Society’ is a flop.”

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