'Rough sleeping measures a step in the right direction but we need more.'
As the Homelessness Reduction Act comes in effect and the government announces a package of measures to tackle rough sleeping, policy and practice officer Faye Greaves says we still need more to make a difference.
While it’s still too early to temperature-check the impact of the Homelessness Reduction Act after just one week since implementation, there have been some welcome announcements from government in recent weeks that suggest we may be (slowly) moving in the direction needed to tackle our country’s disgraceful homelessness problem.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on what has been announced. Firstly, there’s a new rough sleeping initiative, which includes a £30m fund for 2018-19 with further funding agreed for 2019/20 targeted at local authorities with high numbers of people sleeping rough. A new team of rough sleeping and homelessness experts will work with these areas to help bring numbers down. This will be supported by £100,000 funding to ensure frontline workers across the country have the right skills and knowledge to work with vulnerable rough sleepers. In addition, government will also work with the National Housing Federation to look at providing more move-on accommodation across the country.
The package of measures forms part of government’s wider £1.2 billion investment to address homelessness and is being pitched as a cross-departmental approach to supporting the HRA and making sure there’s sustained progress on government’s commitment to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it all together by 2027. Support and funding is apparently coming from departments like the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Justice, among others. We, alongside many others, have been calling for a more joined up approach for some time, so this is good news.
But the Department for Work and Pension are conspicuous by their absence in the list – they should be there. It’s impossible to see how we can achieve long term solutions without government taking a red pen to existing welfare policies. We must address the inherent conflict between stated aims to reduce homelessness and the devastating impact of welfare changes – until this happens, we’re just making a big song and dance about neatly filling in a few cracks while we miss the fact that the rest of the house is actually falling down around us.
We do know though, that government are not afraid to admit when something just isn’t working as intended. The concessions around universal credit last year provided some evidence of this, and the more recent decision to reinstate help with housing costs for all 18-21 year olds is a prime example, even if it was announced over a Bank Holiday weekend. The work and pensions secretary Esther McVey said the decision will remove the unintended barrier to young people accessing housing and will support the HRA and their plans to eliminate rough sleeping. Now, if they can just widen that lens to take account of all those other unintended consequences, we might just be on to something.
While eliminating rough sleeping is an absolute must, work to achieve this must run parallel to action that properly addresses the underlying causes of all measures of homelessness and not just its visible representation. There’s no doubt about it, there are simply too many people sleeping on our streets - the number has increased by 169% since 2010. And action is urgently needed considering figures revealed today by the Guardian that show the number of homeless people recorded dying on UK streets or in temporary accommodation has more than doubled over the last five years.
But the consequences of the failure to tackle our housing supply and affordability crises stretch further than rough sleeping. Families in temporary accommodation, people sofa surfing or people living in completely unsuitable accommodation (severely overcrowded or in physically unfit for occupation for example) – these are all homeless too. So while this action is good, I’m not quite convinced we’re taking the action necessary to address this wider problem yet.
Faye Greaves is policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing.
With the Homelessness Reduction Act in force, what does it mean for you? Check out the homelessness section in the CIH knowledge hub for more information.