The time for initiatives is over – we need a full plan to end homelessness in England

Matt Downie MBE, Chief Executive

As the dust settles on the general election, we can reflect on the fact that every political party made significant manifesto pledges to tackle homelessness. It seems the political class is now agreed that something must be done about the emergency of 170,000 people and households who are homeless.

What exactly have the new government said they will do?

The existing policy to end rough sleeping has been brought forward, from 2027 to 2024. This is the leading commitment in the Conservative manifesto and is of course very welcome. Against the backdrop of increasing fatalities on our streets it is essential that sustainable and evidence-based measures are taken as quickly as possible. We can also learn from the work of the last couple of years.

We have learned from the existing rough sleeping strategy that short-term initiatives to increase outreach and night shelter provision can have measurable success in reducing numbers counted on the street. However, we also know that these things are not in any way addressing the causes of rough sleeping. Much more will be required to meet this new target.

There was a brief manifesto mention of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) being ‘fully enforced’. This again is very welcome, given the potential of the HRA to reorient local responses to towards homelessness prevention.

The detail of exactly how the legislation will be enforced really matters. Our research has shown that local authorities need help from central government, and from other local public services to make the aims of the Act a reality.

There is backing for the Housing First model too. This is more good news as there is no better evidenced approach to ending the homelessness of people with intensive support needs, and at least 18,500 people are in desperate need of this approach right now.

Shortly before the election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to appoint a new government ‘tsar’ responsible for efforts to end all forms of homelessness, and not simply rough sleeping. This is perhaps the most encouraging of all these pre-election pledges as it points to a more strategic approach.

Initiatives to end rough sleeping, to enforce the Homelessness Reduction Act, to roll-out Housing First, and much else besides, are likely to succeed or fail depending on whether two key conditions for success are met:

1.       Whether efforts are coordinated across government, implicating not just the specialist team at MHCLG, but key departments that hold the key to homelessness policy success. This was vital to the successes in dramatically reducing homelessness in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and is about aligning policies on welfare, immigration, criminal justice and others that can stop homelessness happening in the first place.

2.       Whether the causes of homelessness are tackled head on. Chief amongst these are the chronic lack of social housing supply (we need 90,000 additional units per year), and the fact that frozen Housing Benefit rates have rendered the private rented sector both a cause and flawed solution to homelessness. You cannot end homelessness, or rough sleeping without everyone having access to housing. Housing that they can afford.

There are other significant policy choices that are required, all of which are published and costed within the Crisis ‘plan’ to end homelessness. We stand ready to help the new government deliver an ambitious and comprehensive plan, just as we have done in Scotland, and as we are currently doing in Wales.

With the security of its new majority, it is our sincere hope that in its next programme for government the new administration lifts its sights above individual initiatives, and instead crafts a comprehensive strategy for ending homelessness.  

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