Today’s announcement by the government that it is to be spend £100 million towards achieving its target of ending rough sleeping by 2027 has been widely welcomed, not least by London-based homelessness charities who have been advising government on its strategy.
However, I have some concerns, not least the absence of a sense of urgency by government. While the 2027 date has long been government policy, it is simply not good enough. The life expectancy of a homeless man is 47 years, and lower, 43 years, for a homeless woman. For people living and dying on the streets, 2027 is Never Never Land.
The government has said that this is a priority. There are so many things that are now “a priority” for government that I wonder what is not a priority! Housing is another government priority. Last September we were promised a Green Paper on housing. One Secretary of State and three housing ministers later, we are yet to see the Green Paper. So much for it being a priority.
I am pleased that the new Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, widely regarded as being a very decent man, said on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning (13th August 2018) that the government will look at the root causes of rough sleeping, even the impact of its own policies.
Perhaps he should start with local housing allowance (LHA) which has been frozen by the government for several years and come nowhere near covering housing costs. By way of illustration, the average monthly rent for a one bed flat in Brighton is £941 while LHA for such a property is capped at £612.
Unfreezing LHA allowance and peg it, once again, to actual rents being charged in an area would be a great start.
The £50 million fund to provide homes for people ready to leave homeless hostels or domestic violence refuges is all very well. But where are these homes, and with the LHA freeze how can people afford the housing that is available?
Mr Brokenshire has said that there will be £30 million to be spent on mental health help and treatment for substance misuse. Sadly this amount is a drop in the ocean given the loss of funding over the last eight years for these very services, including the closure of residential rehab services up and down the country. While the £30 million is to be welcomed, please spend it on abstinence-based residential rehabs, thereby providing accommodation and addiction treatment.
We need funding for council housing with rents that people can afford, not the nonsense of so-called ‘affordable’ rents (80% of the market rate and, again, well above LHA levels) that the government talks about which is well beyond the means of low and average paid workers, and those on housing benefit.
The government announcement last year that it was abolishing stamp duty for first time buyers on houses worth up to £300,000 would have the effect, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, of pushing up house prices by 0.3% per annum. The only beneficiaries are those selling, while first time buyers are finding it more expensive to buy. (See my article ‘Stamp Duty Budget Announcement: short-term politics, poor economics, lousy housing policy, does nothing to help the majority in housing need’).
The ludicrous proposals from Boris Johnson (in his newly found incarnation of champion of the poor) to slash “absurdly high” stamp duty and abandon affordable housing targets “to get Britain building” is economically so illiterate and nothing more than a rich man’s delusion that I must wonder why a paper such as the Daily Telegraph publishes such rubbish.
The government has been advised to promote Housing First as a solution. Some pilots have been positive but Housing First is extremely expensive, requires a commitment to open-ended funding needs to be open requires an ample supply of housing, not in high density developments. (See what I wrote about this previously: My doubts about the value of Housing First).
But at least the government has said something. Whether the £100 million is new money is another question, and whether it is more than a drop in the ocean, we will wait and see. Is this announcement the kick start that the country requires to end rough sleeping, I fear not.