UK government insists reduction in homelessness while rough sleeping figures remain obstinately high

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A UK government review shows almost a quarter of a million households who were at risk of or already homeless have been helped by the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA).

The review, published on the 25th September 2020, revealed the HRA resulted in 243,680 households were prevented from losing their homes.

The HRA was brought into law in April 2018. The Act placed duties on councils and public bodies to actively prevent homelessness by flagging vulnerable individuals and helping them receive support.

In the 2 years since its inception, 365,000 single households have been assessed as “owed help” to prevent or relieve their homelessness. 28,000 of these people had a history of rough sleeping, and over 15,000 people were rough sleeping at the time of the assessment. These facts have led the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to conclude that the Act is meeting its goal of helping people who previously would not have had access to this type of support.

Speaking on the review, Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing, Kelly Tolhurst MP, said, “The action that this government is taking to support the most vulnerable in our society has helped nearly a quarter of a million people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness find long term accommodation. The Act is working well, with councils supporting the most vulnerable, meaning many more people who may not previously have been eligible for support now have the help they need.”

The government has provided £4.8 billion to help councils to manage the impacts of COVID-19, which includes work supporting homeless people. This also includes £1.1 billion specifically to support social care provider – part of a £28 billion package which the government has committed to funding councils, businesses, and communities.

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Photo: Andreea Popa/Unsplash

However, although there has been an increase in expenditure in the past two years, analysis shows that these increases have not closed the gap between previous expenditure levels. The local authority spending on homelessness 2020 update by WPI Economics, a specialist economics and public policy consultancy, revealed that in 2008/9, local authorities spent £2.9 billion on homelessness, compared to £2.2 billion in 2018/19 – despite the implementation of the HRA. The findings show that spending reductions in the last decade have resulted in £6.2 billion less expenditure on homelessness, between 2008 and 2019. Homelessness figures spiked in 2008, yet the decrease in spending over the following 10 years does not correlate with any decrease in homelessness. As well as this, while homelessness has maintained high levels throughout the last decade, rough sleeping has increased. According to HousingNet Over 4,000 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on a single “typical” night in the UK in 2020, compared with 1,400 in 2010.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter – the UK’s largest homelessness charity – told Eat News, “The Homelessness Reduction Act has been an important step forward as more people have been able to access help when faced with homelessness. But legislation alone will not solve our housing emergency. As the government’s review shows, homeless people are seeing extremely poor outcomes due to the severely limited numbers of affordable homes available. So, even if people are assessed, they are still at risk of losing their home and councils struggle to help them find another. Without addressing the lack of genuinely affordable homes that is at the root of the current crisis, more people are ending up in expensive, insecure, and poor-quality temporary accommodation. Ultimately, if the government wants to reach its goal to end rough sleeping by the end of this parliament, it must urgently invest to start building decent, secure social homes now.”

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Findings from WPI Economics also show that while local authorities may agree they are helping a larger number of single homeless households because of the HRA, this applies to a lesser extent to people sleeping rough. In the Crisis Homelessness Monitor, 65% of survey respondents felt single homelessness (people without dependents who have no registered home) was positively impacted by the Act, while less than half (42%) felt this was the case with rough sleeping (which can include anyone under varying circumstances, sleeping rough episodically). Participants also said, “while Central Government is providing specific funds for tackling rough sleeping, this focus is being directed towards the crisis-stage, whereas attention that focusses on the upstream issues that often lead to rough sleeping is needed.”

In response to these concerns, Maria Croppi, News Planning for Press Office at Department for Communities and Local Government, told Eat News, “We are committed to ending rough sleeping for good and so we always monitor what further support may be most useful. The review of the Act has provided feedback on where further work is needed, including on administration, data collection and joint working.  Working with dedicated professionals, the Government is determined to address these issues and meet their commitment to fully enforce the Act.”

The government has now committed a further half a billion pounds of the UK budget to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over 2020-2021. Measures to protect and support rough sleepers also include the Next Steps Accommodation Programme, which aims to prevent people returning to the streets and fast-tracking 6,000 homes for former rough sleepers across the country.

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Since the outbreak of coronavirus, a support package for renters has also been implemented, with an eviction ban for six months and the law now states the notice period must be 6 months. This means any renters who have been served notice can, at least, stay in their homes over winter.

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Emily Lowes is an Eat News correspondent in the UK who has experience writing social, political, and economic features for a range of news outlets. She is an avid communicator, activist, and advocate for the freedom of information.

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Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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