The Government last year announced a program to reduce the problem of homelessness, recognising this as a major issue for families and individuals caught up in the problem. It was also recognised that it was difficult for local authorities to address the problem. Accommodation is not always available, and the reduced funding through austerity measures make the problem difficult to address. There are no clear national statistics, but homelessness appears according to some sources to be on the increase.
The homelessness program announced promised a preventive approach to the problem, hoping to eventually be able to guarantee suitable support to all in danger of homelessness. To kick off the development of the program, there was an initial commitment of £40m funding to housing authorities across England.
Current homelessness reduction bill
A private member’s Bill, the Homelessness Reduction Bill, is currently making its way through further scrutiny in Parliament, having passed its first reading unopposed. The main changes in law which its enactment would produce are:
- A changed definition of homelessness
- The duty to assist families earlier, facing the prospect of homelessness
- A duty to provide assistance to those not in priority need
- Strengthened duties to provide advice and information
- The duty to carry out a personalised assessment for those who are homeless or threatened with it
Beyond the initial funding of the program, the Government has pledged to increase central funding over the next four years to assist Councils in addressing accommodation shortages in their area, and to fully implement their duties to assist homelessness.
The £40m initial funding includes £20 million ‘trailblazer’ funding which housing authorities can bid for, to enable new approaches and projects which will reduce homelessness in their area.
£10m is allocated to help Councils to prevent the initial homelessness of rough sleepers, and to eventually reduce the number of rough sleepers by providing suitable resources and support.
The remaining £10m is designated as investment funding for outcomes where Councils identify individuals who are caught up in a cycle of homelessness. They may have problems such as mental health issues, substance abuse, poor education and employment prospects, as well as the fundamental accommodation problem.
Reactions to the program
Shelter (England) generally welcomes the Bill, seeing it as calling for a cultural shift in addressing the problem. However, they point out that legislation alone will not be sufficient. Councils will need to be properly resourced to provide sufficient accommodation in their areas, and to enable them to fully carry out their new duties. If these resources are not forthcoming, there is a danger of ‘gatekeeping’, of possible unlawful decisions, and repeat homelessness increasing. The charity points out the need for a central national strategy on homelessness.
The Big Issue charity also welcomed the program, seeing it as enabling better support and advice before crisis point comes, when the bailiffs are at the door. The Editor and founder, John Bird, praised its preventive approach. He sees the need for further preventive measures in health, education and crime rehabilitation services. He even imagined a ‘Prevention Unit’ which might scrutinise all government policies to ensure that they promote equality and social opportunity, reducing the blight of poverty which he sees as the root of many social problems.
Overall, this is a promising change of approach to the crisis of homelessness and the problems it brings to people’s lives, whether in families or living alone. But it does need extended funding to reach its intended goal of reduction and prevention: this will need to follow through on funding commitments, creative and innovative approaches by the Councils across the country and ideally the formation of a national strategy to achieve real and lasting prevention.