If I were asked today what The Brick is, I might not immediately answer we are a charity, but would instead explain that we are an extension of adult social care and are pivotal in providing social services to the public that the government, or other public resources, may fall short of providing.
Most of The Brick’s staff are experienced support workers, intensive housing managers, coaches, independent living mentors. Every staff member is a safeguarding expert. Some are qualified social workers and counsellors.
But the charity sector has a reputation of being different from social work, in the sense that it results only in temporary relief and makes the recipient dependent on the donor. This is an out-of-date myth that needs to be busted or we may result in a deeply underfunded sector.
The Brick’s work – Experts in ‘Relief, Restoration and Reform’.
When I first started working in the third sector, everyone was talking about a revolutionary way of working called Housing First. This is an approach to ending homelessness through housing being a fundamental human right. It prioritises access to permanent housing with tailored, open-ended, wraparound support for the resident that emphasises choice and control. Whilst this approach is fundamentally the right one, with growing evidence that it is an effective solution, without the political will to significantly increase social housing stock it becomes almost meaningless. We need housing REFORM.
The current sector focus is on Cash First, which advocates for providing an adequate income rather than emergency in-kind support, making it more effective and dignified. However, here a similar problem lies. We are now supporting more people than ever before who are in work and therefore cash first solutions become corporate welfare solutions. Put simply – cash cannot buy everything. Giving cash does not directly improve wellbeing, and poverty itself can compromise economic decision making. Direct cash assistance does not combat structural capitalist issues, such as discrimination, inequity and weak democratic governance. Nor does it provide hope and aspiration to communities that have been left behind. We need RESTORATION of social mobility.
The Brick approaches poverty and homelessness in 3 equally important ways, by providing relief, restoration and reform. Because after cash first and housing first, what’s second? – it’s clear that these models are a step in the right direction but too simplistic and with limited thought about what comes next for communities of deep disadvantage. At The Brick we are experts at supporting people with complex needs and overlapping challenges: domestic violence and abuse, homelessness, substance misuse, addiction, involvement with the criminal justice system and mental health problems. People who are unable to navigate the social security system and are often closed to social services.
Analysis of Home Office data by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a think tank, shows 7,074 people receiving Universal Credit in Wigan were deemed to be ‘looking for work’ as of November – 570 (8.1 per cent) of which had been sanctioned. And in the spring Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the sanctions regime is to be “strengthened”, particularly for those failing to look for work so we are expecting these figures to only worsen.
The Brick has an immediate and vital role to play in helping to unravel the complexity of the benefits system and whilst we lobby and fight for a complete overhaul we need to continue to support with food, essential household items and other in-kind donations as well as coaching and transitioning from crisis. Everybody should have the dignity of an income which enables them to buy these things, but now at this very moment we are so far from this becoming a reality, and with destitution taking a grip, we are sometimes only keeping people safe and alive. We believe in a future where our economy is rebalanced and inclusive, where it pays to work, and where people are not punished for being poor.
The charity sector can’t exist on fresh air and goodwill alone, it needs the acknowledgment and funding that it deserves. At the Brick we are far removed from the traditional image of providing just immediate relief – we are a social movement of frontline experts, believing in the power of the person, tackling social complex issues and changing thousands of people’s lives every year.
To find out more about the work of The Brick
Part of Queens Hall Action on Poverty, The Food Community, 65 Water St, Wigan WN1 1XD Company Number 08503176. Charity Number 1153055 © 2023 The Brick. Website by ATTAIN
CREDIT: Centre for Homelessness Impact / Liam McBurney/PA