16 June 2014
Homeless people are being failed as children and adults when it comes to reading and writing, shocking new research has revealed.
The charity St Mungo's Broadway has conducted the largest ever recorded survey of homeless people's literacy and numeracy skills by direct assessment.
They found that 51% wouldn't achieve GCSE grade D-G and lack the basic literacy skills needed for everyday life.
This figure compares with one in six (15%) of the general population who struggle to read.
The report also reveals challenges for Further Education (FE) colleges. College principals who were interviewed recognised the barriers to learning faced by homeless people but, as funding is reliant on attendance and qualifications, they are unable to take the financial risk and offer the kind of flexible courses that work for people who are homeless.
Howard Sinclair, St Mungo's Broadway Chief Executive, along with the charity's clients, are presenting the report, Reading Counts: Why English and maths skills matter in tackling homelessness, to MPs today along with a petition signed by close to 3,000 people urging Skills Minister Matthew Hancock to ensure that basic skills training is well funded, suitable and accessible to all homeless people.
Howard Sinclair said: "From not learning how to read and write at school to being held back by the adult learning system, many people who are homeless face terrible hurdles when it comes to basic skills.
"Poor literacy and numeracy impacts across work, health, keeping a home and positive relationships. Our clients need a second, sometimes a third chance to build their future. That's why we, and our supporters, are asking the Government to deliver on their promise to prioritise training opportunities for homeless people."
St Mungo's Broadway assessed 139 people and held 30 in-depth interviews with clients. They found that:
One client who was interviewed for the report is Tracy who has experienced homelessness on and off for 13 years. Tracy, who was fostered as a child, always felt like she was falling behind in school.
"I was told I was stupid and chaotic, which I then believed. I didn't spend much time in school so didn't improve my literacy. I had no self esteem or confidence and am only starting to build on this now."
Poor literacy led to Tracy losing her home in the 1990s because she failed to fill in her housing benefit form.
"I didn't know what it was so I put it in a drawer. I didn't know whether there was support or where to find support to help me."
Another client interviewed added:
"If I do miss dates [on a St Mungo's Broadway skills course] we can go back over it. But if I'm on a 12 week course somewhere else and miss units and fall behind, then I'm in trouble. And it would have been another failed attempt."
David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, wrote the foreword for the report. He said: "English and maths skills are fundamental for people to be active citizens in our society. They are the bedrock upon which we are all able to find and sustain work, learn new skills, participate in our democracy, support our families and feel part of the community we live in.
"NIACE has been working with St Mungo's Broadway to develop new ways to encourage homeless adults into informal learning using hooks such as financial capability and online banking but we need greater flexibility in funding mechanisms for FE providers to support those with the greatest needs."
NIACE (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) assisted with the report and provided guidance on the lifelong learning sector.
The Reading Counts report make six recommendations including that the Government makes a long term commitment to fund English and maths programmes, which are designed for people who are homeless, commits to work with homelessness agencies to expand the pilot STRIVE pre employment support programme and encourages local authorities to better coordinate community learning and supported accommodation services.
Link to the full report is: http://www.mungosbroadway.org.uk/documents/5078/5078.pdf
The Reading Counts report makes six recommendations:
1. Government should make a long term commitment to fund English and maths programmes, which are designed for people who are homeless.
2. Government should commit to work with homelessness agencies to expand the STRIVE pre employment support pilot.
3. Government should scope the size of need and potential demand for basic English and maths skills provision for people who are homeless across England.
4. If people who are homeless are required to attend training in order to receive benefits, the Government must ensure this training is compatible with their learning and wider support needs.
5. Government should encourage local authorities to better coordinate Community Learning and supported accommodation services.
6. The Behavioural Insights Research Centre for Maths and English should explore effective models of learning and ways to motivate people who are homeless.