Taking the fight to end discrimination to Parliament

6 October 2019 by

In the 1950s you were allowed to put up signs saying, “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs”. Nowadays, you’re allowed to put up “no DSS”At what point did we decide as a country that this is ok? – Philippa Lalor

This year, we’ve made significant progress in our campaign to stamp out DSS discrimination against renters on benefits. And now, thanks to your help, we’re another step closer to achieving an overall victory. 

After months of campaigning, Shelter were invited to a Select Committee hearing in April to share examples of discrimination experienced by people on benefits. Our housing campaigners were among the most powerful voices to be heard during the sessionOne of these voices belongs to Philippa Lalor, whose personal experience of discrimination made MPs sit up and take notice. 

Philippa’s story 

‘When I was in my early 20s, I ended up sleeping rough and in hostels due to housing problems,’ she recalls. ‘I literally had nowhere to stay having left my medical degree because of a mental breakdown. I couldn’t go back and live with my parents and the stress of it all led to me being hospitalised long-term.’ 

Once in hospital, Philippa was stuck as there was nowhere for her to be discharged to. Even when she was allowed to leave, her problems weren’t over as with regular hospital appointments, she could only work part-time – and that meant claiming benefits. 

‘I couldn’t find a landlord who would take me on because I was on housing benefit,’ Philippa says. ‘It was just, “go away”. Even with money in the bank, people wouldn’t sign a contract with me.’ 

This resulted in further long-term treatment. ’Each time I get hospitalised I lose more than my freedom,’ Philippa says. ‘I lose whatever part-time job I’m doing, I lose voluntary work, friends, relationships…I nearly lost my life over it.’ 

Pippa sitting on the stairs, smiling

It was when she felt she’d reached ‘the end’ that Philippa came to Shelter.  

As she explains: ‘Shelter was able to help by arguing with letting agents over what exactly it is about DSS that is causing the problems. 

‘Imagine if mortgage providers and insurers discriminated against one race or one sexuality; that would be completely illegal. And yet this is legal. People just accept it as the norm.’ 

Making her voice heard 

At the Select Committee, Philippa was keen to tackle the stigma and prejudice faced by renters on benefits – and show how short-sighted it can be.  

‘My credit rating is good, I’ve never been in debt, I’ve never defaulted on payments…but if my current lease ends for any reason, I could end up homeless,’ she told the committee. ‘It’s terrifying as I have no safety net.’ 

After the hearing, MPs from across the political spectrum committed to resolving this injustice. Many echoed earlier comments made by then Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Heather Wheeler MP, who noted that a secure home is at the heart of ‘security, dignity and opportunities…to build a better life.’ 

It’s clear that determination and goodwill are building, but we still need your help – read more about the DSS campaign progress and wins. 

Your support is making a difference

It’s clear that your determination is making a difference. But the more support we can get, the quicker we can end discrimination against people like Pippa.

We need as much support as we can get to make sure the government will listen.
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