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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Addressing the true drivers of homelessness


This week the Chancellor announced a £115 million package of measures to combat homelessness and rough sleeping. While this is good news, the measures fail to address some of the fundamental causes of homelessness, says CIH policy and practice officer Faye Greaves.

Image of suitcases Funding will cover investment in the following:

  • £100 million capital funding for up to 2000 ‘low cost’ move-on accommodation spaces for rough sleepers and victims of domestic abuse who are ready to leave hostel accommodation and refuges.  While the mechanism for allocating this funding is not yet clear, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is keen to consult with the sector on how to make it work
  • Building on the 'No second night out' initiative, £10 million over two years to help prevent and reduce rough sleeping, particularly in London
  • Funding for the Rough Sleeping Social Impact Bond will be doubled from £5 million to £10 million to tackle entrenched rough sleeping, including ‘Housing first’ approaches

The funding is mainly targeted at stemming the sharply rising trend of the most visible form of homelessness and is a welcome step in the right direction. The most recent official figures show that in 2015 rough sleeping had increased by 30 per cent on the previous year and more than doubled since 2010. Research has shown that people who sleep rough are one of the most vulnerable groups in society – they are over nine times more likely to commit suicide than the general population and their average age of death is just 47 (43 for women).

While the UK statistics authority recently highlighted a number of concerns about the reliability of the current recording system when seeking an accurate picture of homelessness, latest official figures do reflect the scale of the issue:

  • The total number of homeless acceptances in 2014/15 was 36 per cent higher than the 2009/10 low
  • Placements of homeless households in temporary accommodation have risen by 40 per cent between 2010/11 and 2014/15
  • The total number of households with children living in temporary bed and breakfast style accommodation has increased by 45 per cent since 2014/15

It’s commonly accepted that investing in homelessness prevention can help people from falling into desperate situations and actually saves money in the long run. The work that councils already do on this is vital so it was encouraging to see the government protecting its homelessness prevention grant. But ultimately, individual preventative measures can’t replace policy designed to ensure we are building enough affordable homes or to give people every opportunity to avoid homelessness in the first place.

People become homeless for complex and usually overlapping reasons but right now a combination of the shortage of affordable housing for people on low incomes and welfare reforms, such as the cuts in housing benefit, is effectively weakening the housing safety net for those in greatest need.  The proposed extension of local housing allowance (LHA) caps to social sector rents, especially on supported accommodation schemes for the most vulnerable, threatens to undermine any efforts to drive a more preventative approach to tackling homelessness.

We’re working with Crisis as part of an expert panel examining potential changes to legislation which could help promote homelessness prevention. At a critical time for homelessness in England, with councils struggling to help single homeless people and fearing that further welfare reforms will make the problem worse, a new prevention duty will strengthen the legal framework and provide a more universal and fairer system for everyone.

Research shows that there is wide support across English councils for a prevention duty of some kind and it’s promising to hear the Housing Minister’s announcement yesterday that the government is still considering a new homelessness duty.  The urgent need to address rising levels of rough sleeping is acknowledged but if the government is committed to addressing the true drivers of homelessness, we need a wider package of measures driven by cross-government support and adequate financial backing in the longer term.

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