By Jules Hillier, Chief Executive of Pause
“Can I tell you something, Jules?” a practitioner said to me a couple of years ago when I was visiting one of our practices, “We have to fix housing. That’s what Pause has to think about. If we get that right, so much more will follow. Fix housing.”
It wasn’t the first time someone had talked to me about housing. I already knew that for many women who experience the removal of children, their housing situation can be perilous and unstable. It’s often one of the first things we help women with, and one of the things that can prevent them from being able to focus on other areas of their lives where they need to make change. We are always asking the women we work with about what’s important to them, and housing always comes out in their top three priorities.
But fix it? That’s a big ask. Organisations bigger, older and more experienced than Pause have long been charging at the problems of homelessness, poor quality housing and bad housing policy.
When I’m faced with an overwhelming problem, I think about what there is specifically that I – or in this case, Pause – can do. What can Pause contribute to the discussion? What can we focus on that might add to the richness of discussions, that other people might not be thinking about? What is our particular insight?
Women who experience the removal of children from their care experience many of the same challenges that other vulnerable people face – poor quality, unstable and unsafe housing – but there are some elements of their experience of housing that are unique to them.
Financially, having a child removed can contribute to a perfect storm. When a woman no longer has a child in her care, she loses any entitlement to family benefits. At the same time, if her children’s bedrooms are now empty, she becomes liable for bedroom tax. However, she will be advised by her solicitor not to move to a smaller property, as it might act against her in court if she doesn’t have space for her child(ren) to come home. Many women fall into debt at this stage, unable to sustain the tenancy but unable to leave it.
Housing is about more than money and a roof over your head, too. There may be an enormously complicated range of emotions attached to a particular house for a woman. A place where she will have had both the best and worst of times with her family. Often, the place made most dangerous for her by domestic abuse is the place she has the fondest memories of her children: marks on the door frame where their heights have been measured, paint chosen by a child for their bedroom.
Three women who have graduated the Pause Programme talk about these particular challenges in our podcast series, In a Mother’s Mind. They talk about feeling “trapped” and the “mental gymnastics” between staying and leaving a once busy family home that has now come to represent such pain. They share some of the things that have helped them and offer words of advice and support to other women who might be in a similar position. It’s a powerful listen.
In many of our practices, the relationships women and their practitioner build with local housing services are some of the most important and those that make the most difference to a woman’s ability to create change in other areas of her life. We held a webinar on the topic of housing, and this really shone through: the importance of positive relationships with services when trying to rebuild your life following the removal of a child.
In the webinar, the brilliant Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, deftly articulates the sheer size of the problem that needs fixing. At Pause, we’re not ‘fixing housing’ on a national scale; I know that. But we can all help individuals. Sometimes, in the face of a massive, intractable problem, that’s what makes a difference.
Listen to more episodes of In a Mother’s Mind here.
Watch our webinar on housing here.