A WATCHDOG has blasted the head of a safeguarding board for suggesting homelessness is a choice.

Derek Benson, Worcestershire Adult Safeguarding Board (WASB) chairman, made the comments in a meeting with Healthwatch Worcestershire.

Speaking to the Worcester News yesterday, Mr Benson claimed he said that a tiny minority of homeless people had chosen homelessness as a lifestyle.

He added the vast majority of homelessness is caused by mental health problems and other issues.

The main role of WASB is to promote wellbeing and reduce the risk of harm for people with care and support needs.

Peter Pinfield, chairman of Healthwatch Worcestershire, rubbished Mr Benson's claim that some people become homeless as a 'lifestyle choice'.

He said: "It's not true. If you are a proper chair the words you use are important.

"All the evidence and experience we have tells us people end up in difficult situations for a whole range of reasons.

"Healthwatch would not see it as a lifestyle choice, it's very much about circumstances and people's experience of breakdowns or having housing problems."

Mr Pinfield added that Healthwatch Worcestershire twice asked whether Mr Benson wanted to retract his statements before making the minutes public.

Jonathan Sutton, chief executive of St Paul's Hostel, in Tallow Hill, Worcester, said: “The reported view of the chair of the WASB that some homeless adults might have chosen a homeless lifestyle gives the board of trustees at St Paul’s Hostel serious cause for concern.

“If this is the view of the leader of the Adult Safeguarding Board then it is particularly dispiriting. It is not the first time we have heard such things from a local public servant.

"Rough sleepers and people living in homeless hostels are very vulnerable. We also know most of the people who we help have had numerous Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

“These include sexual, physical and emotional abuse, neglect or living with drug addicted, or alcoholic or violent parents.

“Through the lens of adversity in childhood the idea that some people have chosen a homeless lifestyle is offensive.”

Mr Sutton added that the St Paul's Hostel trustees would like to meet the WASB at the earliest opportunity.

Ross Webber, project manager for Caring for Communities and People (CCP), which runs the night shelter at Maggs Day Centre, also rejected Mr Benson's claims.

He said: "The vast majority of the people we try to help are on the streets through a number of unfortunate events.

"They have fallen on hard times. In general people don't choose homelessness as a lifestyle. They are there as they have nowhere else to go."

The project manager added that rough sleepers can be former prisoners, who have lost their homes while in jail, addicts or even victims of domestic violence.

Mr Benson said: "During a productive, private meeting with Healthwatch I said that a very small minority of homeless people might choose homelessness as a lifestyle choice.

"I am fully aware the vast majority of homeless people are there due to mental health issues or other personal problems."

The chairman previously worked as Deputy Chief Constable at Essex Police.

The meeting between Mr Benson and Healthwatch Worcestershire originally took place on Monday, January 15.

The minutes were published on Friday.

WASB is a partner of Worcestershire County Council.