Rough sleeping: Politicians need to consider the means, not just the end

Before they can decrease homelessness, the next government needs a better understanding of the solution.

Andrew Redfern is Chief Executive of Framework Housing Association

Andrew Redfern is Chief Executive of Framework Housing Association

7 June 2017

The main political parties all say they will tackle homelessness. The Conservative manifesto pledges to ‘halve rough sleeping in the course of the next parliament’. Labour thinks it can be ended completely in the same period, while the Liberal Democrats also wish to eliminate the problem in its entirety.

Such cross-party ambition is a major and welcome departure from existing policy. Even on the official figures, rough sleeping more than doubled from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,134 in 2016¹. These numbers under-state the true extent of the problem, not least because they include zero estimates in small towns and rural areas where the increase has been sharper than in London and other major cities. The upward trend is accelerating, especially outside the capital. And it’s not a surprise. The cause is a combination of welfare reform, housing shortage, destitution, the cessation of prevention work and the precarious finances of supported housing.

The parties are right that rough sleeping is a soluble problem. But they need a better understanding of the solution. It does not consist of pilots, temporary initiatives or gimmicks. Social investment may have a (limited) role to play and Housing First has a substantial one. In addition, prevention must be re-established at local level with specific, ring-fenced resources. Above all, it is necessary to have a stable, reliable funding system for the continued existence and future development of high quality supported housing.

We were told to expect a Green Paper on this ‘in the spring’. Whoever wins the election on Thursday should act quickly and decisively to rescind the proposals by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The most damaging of these is to cap the future funding of supported housing at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) levels, which vary widely from place to place. Organisations across the country have told the Government that these bizarre proposals will not work. So have the DWP and DCLG select committees in the outgoing parliament. 

If the parties are serious about the end of rough sleeping, the first step is to withdraw the threat to supported housing (including specialist hostels) of the proposed LHA cap. The second is to establish and deliver a national strategy on rough sleeping. The third is to underpin it by restoring homelessness prevention work at local level, as envisaged by the Homelessness Reduction Act.           

  1. Table 1, Rough Sleeping Statistics, Autumn 2016, England, DCLG 

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