Give me Shelter


Has Ken Loach lost the plot? I heard him on the Today programme this morning. Loach, famous for his radical left-wing views, is calling on people to stop giving money to Shelter, because of an industrial dispute among its employees.

Shelter is a national charity but one in which I have a strong local interest. Shelter is based in my constituency, in Old Street. And Loach’s docu-drama, ‘Cathy Come Home’, which led to the creation of Shelter, was filmed partly in Popham Street, Islington; just across the road from my home.

The film’s tenements have been cleared long since, and the modern Popham Estate is in their place. The nature of homelessness has changed; instead of families on the streets, we have the hidden homeless, three or four generations of families squashed into one flat, because there is nothing like enough affordable housing to go round. So Shelter’s work is still desperately needed.

Shelter staff are as entitled to fair pay and to take industrial action as anyone else. But the idea that donors should cut off funding to the charity in response is just barmy.

Ken Loach is one of those left-wingers who seems to think any industrial dispute is worth supporting, no matter who suffers. It’s the kind of view that led me to leave the Labour party for the Liberals nearly 25 years ago.

But it gets worse. Loach argues that by taking contracts for Government work, something Shelter has done since the 1970s, they are somehow compromised in their independence. In fact, as Shelter’s Chief Exec Adam Sampson made clear, they are as outspoken as ever; his last appearance on Today was attacking Housing Minister Caroline ‘heart of’ Flint’s policy of evicting the unemployed. She’s demonstrated that new Labour is no more attractive or reasonable than the old hard left.

Loach then went on to say that Shelter should not take work from the Government, because the Government was ‘part of the market economy that causes homelessness in the first place’. What is he proposing? I thought state funding was the left’s holy grail to avoid dependence on the market? And what about corporate charity donations? Does he want Shelter to reject those? Many donors will be pleased to know that Shelter’s admin costs are kept under control, so the money goes to those most in need.

I should declare an interest: I’ve been a Shelter donor, through payroll giving, for many years. So Loach’s piece was aimed at me. I’ll certainly review my giving to Shelter as a result; it’s about time they got an increase.

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10 Comments »

  1. Alan said

    Bridget
    You are well informed and make some very good points but the one thing that perhaps the programme did not allow time for was an exploration of the bullying tactics being used by Shelter management. Adam Sampson, Shelter’s Chief Exec, has shown an ongoing distain for his loyal workforce. Ken Loach has only made his plea for donors to withhold money because he knows this is the only language Mr Sampson understands. Adam Sampson is putting a well respected organisation in jeopordy. Search on google using ‘Shelter staff dispute’ and you’ll find a lot more detailed info about how Shelter staff are facing dismissal for opposing the changes.

  2. bridgetfox said

    Thank you for your comments. I’ve looked at the wider coverage and can see that there are genuine issues to be resolved.

    However, I stand by my position “Shelter staff are as entitled to fair pay and to take industrial action as anyone else. But the idea that donors should cut off funding to the charity in response is just barmy.”

    If the funding cake shrinks, there will be less money to pay staff; if the proportion of that cake from individual donors shrinks, there will be greater dependence on contract work.

    It’s troubling that the ACAS-brokered talks failed; I see there is a day’s industrial action planned for tomorrow. Let’s hope the dispute can be resolved swiftly & fairly, so that Shelter can get back to helping the badly-housed and homeless.

  3. Alan said

    Bridget
    I would agree – here’s hoping that the dispute can be settled quickly.
    From my understanding this is Shelter’s first strike ever and therefore one can only assume that staff feel driven to it – as well as being away from supporting homeless people, I’m assuming staff will be missing out on a day’s pay. I’m sure they do not want either of those things.

    Perhaps Ken Loach’s comments might not have been to everyone’s liking, but he has used contraversy to get coverage for an issue which might otherwise not have been noticed … not unlike his approach when making Cathy Come Home.

  4. Jane said

    hi,

    I work at Shelter and would just like to say that the strike yesterday was a last resort. All attempts to return to ACAS have been snubbed by senior management. at a joint negotiating meeting last week, the union stewards attended the meeting with compromises and alternatives on the table, but these were dismissed.

    The strikes were well supported and peaceful yesterday, with another day of action planned for Monday 10th March 08.

    Staff cannot accept 2.5 hours increase to their working week, plus a freeze on increments, plus some staff downgrading, plus the reality that some staff will be working the same jobs with huge discrepencies in pay with their colleagues, often in the same office.

    Every member of staff,including our Manager, in my office have been dismissed and given their notice for not signing the new contracts. They have been told to sign their new contract within 10 days. We have worked at Shelter between 5 and 24 years. We have been taken on at a time into an office with representative from Management and HR and pressurised to sign, but no-one has done so as they feel so strongly about this.

    We do not want the work of Shelter staff to be degraded like this, THAT is what will affect the clients the most- long standing members of staff being dismissed to make way for less experienced staff on new contracts.

    Yesterday’s strike was attended by Social Workers, Child Support Workers, Support Workers, Solicitors, Housing Aid Workers, Administrators, Service Managers,Senior Team members, HR employees. This attack on terms affects the whole organisation.

    Ken Loach has listened to all the facts before commenting.

    Adam Sampson’s position as Chief Exec at Shelter is untenable in my opinion.

    Lets hope this action gets everyone back round the table and ,crucially, with management willing to listen this time.

  5. Alan said

    Jane

    I think I speak for many supporters of Shelter when I say I wish you – the staff – all the very best with your efforts. It sounds as if Shelter staff have been treated with an incredible lack of respect by management.

    Good luck – remember: if you stay united management will have to get back round the table unless they want to cause the total disintegration of the charity.

    Best wishes, Alan

  6. bridgetfox said

    Thank you for all the comments, it will certainly be interesting to see how this develops. Lets hope Shelter is soon back making headlines for the right reasons.

  7. Jane said

    hi,

    second day of strike action today. It went incredibly well, a couple of clients came along to show their support too which was brilliant. A few passers by had heard Ken Loach on radio 4 last week and said they had cancelled their direct debits. Really mixed feeling about that one, we urged them to keep abreast of how this protest goes and consider reinstating them if management return to their senses soon. Unfortunately, this may be the only thing management respond to though. We shall see.

    The Green Party have issued a message of support for Shelter staff, as have many other groups. And an early day motion has been lodged in Parliament with many MP’s signing up in support of Shelter staff’s action.

    There was a Shelter board meeting today, hopefully they have made some sensible decisions that we can work through this week. If not then its more action next week and beyond….

    p.s Thanks for your message of support Alan, its really appreciated.

  8. Mary Thomas said

    Hi,

    I am a Shelter worker and been working for the charity for many years. I can confirm we have been presented with a written ultimatum, a dismissal notice or sign the new contract.

    We have been informed this week that management plan to meet the our union on Monday next. The membership want a negociated settlement to the dispute and to get back to work and continue to give the service our clients’ deserve.

    Support Shelter staff by contacting Adam Sampson and the Board of Trustees at Shelter.

  9. […] via a link, to be found in a post by Bridget Fox, Lib Dem candidate for Islington South. Then note that Fox’s post doesn’t offer support for Shelter management, it just opposes Ken Loach’s call to stop donations. Next, observe Fox […]

  10. jane said

    Unfortunately we have no option but to strike again for two days next week. Many staff who feel strongly about this feel that they cannot afford to strike, others feel pressurised to ‘conform’. Rumours are circulating that Union notices have been ripped off staff notice boards. Management offered staff a derisory £150 each( taxed) if they signed their contracts before a certain date.

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