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    Families with stable jobs at risk of homelessness in England, report finds


    Nurses are among those ending up with nowhere to live after being evicted by private-sector landlords, says watchdog.

    (By Patrick Butler Social policy editor: Friday 15 December).

    (Doors to rooms at a temporary accommodation block in Lambeth, south London. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian).

    Homelessness is now a serious risk for working families with stable jobs who cannot find somewhere affordable to live after being evicted by private-sector landlords seeking higher rents, the local government ombudsman has warned.

    Michael King said nurses, taxi drivers, hospitality staff and council workers were among those assisted by his office after being made homeless and placed in often squalid and unsafe temporary accommodation by local authorities.

    “People are coming to us not because they have a ‘life crisis’ or a drug and alcohol problem, but because they are losing what they thought was a stable private-sector tenancy, being evicted and then being priced out of the [rental] market,” he said.

    King said the common perception that homelessness was about people with chaotic lives who slept rough no longer held true. “Increasingly, [homeless people] are normal families who would not have expected to be in this situation,” he said.

    The ombudsman’s report came as the latest quarterly homelessness statistics showed another year-on-year rise in the number of households classed as homeless. There are 79,150 homeless households in temporary housing, including 6,400 in bed and breakfast accommodation.

    Homelessness of all kinds has increased for six consecutive years in England, prompting a highly critical National Audit Office report in September that said social security cuts and ministers’ failure to get a grip on a “visibly growing problem” was costing the taxpayer £1bn a year.

    The homelessness charity Crisis said: “As social housing declines, welfare cuts bite and private renting costs soar, people who were less likely to become homeless in the past are now being pushed further to the brink of losing their homes.”

    The ombudsman investigates individual complaints about public services and registered social care providers, and fines councils thousands of pounds when complaints are upheld. In 2016-17, the ombudsman received 450 complaints about council homelessness services, with 70% of those investigated upheld.

    King was particularly critical of local authorities he had investigated that rehoused homeless families in damp, filthy and dangerous temporary homes. “You do not have to look to Victorian fiction to see totally Dickensian housing conditions,” he said.

    “Dreadful” cases of homeless families being put up in substandard accommodation landed on his desk every week, he said. Examples include:

    A couple with two young children who spent 26 weeks in a single room in a B&B. Although they reported that the shower did not work and the room was infested with cockroaches, the council failed to ensure repairs were made.

    A mother whose baby had type 1 diabetes was placed in a dirty and unhygienic B&B room without access to cooking facilities. The baby contracted an infection and ended up in hospital. The hospital blamed the housing, saying the mother was unable to properly feed her baby.

    A disabled single parent with four children was put up in B&B accommodation for nearly two and a half years after her benefits were capped. The council ignored letters from medical professionals outlining concerns that living in the property was affecting the family’s health.

    Some councils routinely flouted homelessness law, with many placing homeless families with children in B&B rooms for longer than the legal six-week limit, a practice that had a “devastating impact” on many tenants’ lives, King said. The situation had deteriorated in the four years since the ombudsman last examined it.

    “Sometimes it is an authority which has just made a mistake and does not understand the law. In other cases, it is a conscious attempt to manage a problem they are overwhelmed by. In some cases, they say they just do not have the staff to meet the number of applications,” he said.

    Although some councils had changed their homelessness policies after being admonished by the ombudsman, King said, “we still see too many families left in situations which are simply unacceptable in modern society”.

    Asked whether government cuts to council budgets had undermined homelessness provision, King said: “What local authorities tell us when we investigate is that they are working with increased pressures and fewer staff, fewer landlords are willing to take homeless tenants, there are increased evictions and less temporary accommodation available.”

    One-third of cases analysed by the ombudsman’s team involved councils in south-east England, often in affluent areas with high housing costs such as Berkshire, Sussex and Kent.

    Martin Tett, the Local Government Association housing spokesman, said: “Councils are facing immense pressures when it comes to temporary accommodation, having to house the equivalent of an extra secondary school’s worth of homeless children every month, and the cost of providing temporary accommodation has trebled in the last three years.”

    A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesperson said councils had a duty to provide safe, secure and suitable temporary accommodation.

    “Tackling homelessness is a complex issue with no single solution, but we are determined to help the most vulnerable in society,” they said.

    "That’s why we are providing over £1bn up to 2020 to prevent and reduce all forms of homelessness and rough sleeping. We are also bringing in the Homelessness Reduction Act – the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.”



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    Star Wars: The Last Jedi review – an explosive thrill-ride of galactic proportions.


    Director Rian Johnson delivers a tidal wave of energy and emotion in the eighth episode of the saga, as Luke, Leia, Finn and Rey step up to meet their destiny.

    Visual thrills … Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma in Star Wars: the Last Jedi. Photograph: AP

    An old hope. A new realism. An old anxiety. A new feeling that the Force might be used to channel erotic telepathy, and long-distance evil seduction. The excitingly and gigantically proportioned eighth film in the great Star Wars saga offers all of these, as well as colossal confrontations, towering indecisions and teetering temptations, spectacular immolations, huge military engagements, and very small disappointments.

    The character-driven face-offs are wonderful and the messianic succession crisis about the last Jedi of the title is gripping. But there is a convoluted and slightly unsatisfying parallel plot strand about the Resistance’s strategic military moves as the evil First Order closes in, and an underwritten, under-imagined and eccentrically dressed new character – Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, played by Laura Dern.

    More successful is a new figure from other ranks: Kelly Marie Tran is terrifically good as Rose Tico, the Resistance soldier who steps up to meet her destiny as a key player in the battle against tyranny. Like The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi offers variations on the mighty orchestral themes of the original trilogy, switching occasionally to muted tones and minor keys, before cranking the volume back up. This auto-reference has become an accepted and exhilarating part of the new Star

    Buzzing with self belief … Kelly Marie Tran and John Boyega. Photograph: David James/AP.

    We left the last movie as Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, is in the act of handing over a lightsaber to the haunted and monkish figure of Luke Skywalker himself, played of course by a poignantly grizzled Mark Hamill – a handing-back-of-the-baton moment of inspired paradox. No spoilers, obviously, but what Luke says and does first at the beginning of this film is startlingly unexpected: an upending of the tonal apple cart, that signals writer-director Rian Johnson’s determination to wrest the lightsaber away from JJ Abrams and put his own mark on the project.

    Rey must now ponder her own future and vocation. And, as for Luke, he has to reassess what the third act of his life now means. Hamill comes into his own here with a very intelligent and sympathetic portrayal of his great character. Luke is now part Prospero, part Achilles. He is potentially the great magician or teacher on this remote island, in a position to induct Rey into the Zen priesthood of the Force, and show her it is not just a matter of silly conjuring tricks and making rocks rise into the air.

    But might he not also be sulking in his tent, reluctant to help, for reasons apparently connected with his catastrophically failed mentorship of Kylo Ren, but perhaps for other, more complex reasons?

    Which brings us to Kylo Ren himself, superbly played by Adam Driver. He is now a wounded, damaged figure and he insinuates himself like a sensually predatory Satan into our consciousness in a series of dreamlike cross-cutting dialogue sequences that are the most successful part of the film.

    Poignantly grizzled … Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. Photograph: John Wilson/AP.

    What does Kylo Ren want? As ever, the closeups on Driver’s face are gorgeous. He is never the Easter Island statue of hardness that it is possible to misremember: he is tremulous, unsure of himself, like an unhappy teenager, and his mouth seems almost on the point of trembling with tears. That breathy, resonant voice is unmistakable even from behind a neo-Vader mask.

    This is a villain who seems troubled about the mantle of evil on his shoulders; and, again, there are surprises in store about what Ren has in mind for the future and what his past relationship with his Uncle Luke actually was.

    Meanwhile, General Leia, played by the late Carrie Fisher, is commanding a complex military manoeuvre in the face of malign incursions from the First Order, represented by General Hux, played more obviously and successfully for laughs by Domhnall Gleeson.

    Romantic hothead pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is on the point of outright insubordination in his desire to lash out against the First Order but reformed stormtrooper Finn – an excellent, muscular performance from John Boyega – working with Rose (Tran) has a new and subtler scheme in view, which involves finding a codebreaker on a distant Vegas-ish planet offering casino betting and track racing. It is, bafflingly, a digressive plotline that gets tangled up in itself, though not without offering a good deal of entertainment.

    The Last Jedi gives you an explosive sugar rush of spectacle. It’s a film that buzzes with belief in itself and its own mythic universe – a euphoric certainty that I think no other movie franchise has. And there is no provisional hesitation or energy dip of the sort that might have been expected between episodes seven and nine.

    What there is, admittedly, is an anticlimactic narrative muddle in the military story, but this is not much of a flaw considering the tidal wave of energy and emotion that crashes out of the screen in the final five minutes. It’s impossible not to be swept away.



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