The stock response from government, local and national, when challenged about a current or impending problem, is to say how much money it is spending to resolve the matter.
This is true about the rough sleeping crisis. The number of people sleeping rough has doubled since 2010, according to a report in the Financial Times in January. And today (10th August 2017), the national charity, Crisis, has forecast that rough sleeping will rise by a further 76% by 2026. (This forecast is based on research conducted on behalf of Crisis by Heriot-Watt University).
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “Alongside investing £550 million to 2020 to address the issue, we’re implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act, which will require councils to provide early support to people at risk of becoming homeless. There’s more to do and ministers will set out plans shortly.”
It is easy for someone to quote eye-watering sums but given the track record since 2010 we need something that will inspire confidence. The doubling in rough sleeping numbers is a direct result of government policies. I look forward to the government’s plans being published. The plans need to be more than worthy statements of intent.
The government’s plans need to be SMART. They need to set out specific measures that will be implemented, what difference these measures will make, and when the positive impact will be seen. A vague date like 2026 is no good. Most of the Ministers around today will not even be a footnote in history by 2026.
I would suggest, amongst other things, the following:
- The appointment of a Minister for Rough Sleeping who will remain in her/his post until the next general election so they can be judged on their record
- Properly fund local authorities to meet their homelessness duties
- Reverse the drop in investment for affordable homes, specifically homes that will be made available to homeless households and individuals
- Reverse the cuts to housing benefit
- Reintroduce direct housing benefit payments to landlords to build confidence especially in the private rented sector
- Put funding for homelessness services on a proper footing,
It should shame us all, not least those in power, that rough sleeping numbers have doubled since 2010. Today’s report from Crisis should shame government into urgent action.
There is a report out today that shows the obvious: that those areas that those areas with disproportionate decreases in social housing have the fastest growing housing waiting lists.
The report by Inside Housing is based on an analysis of figures provided by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
In many areas waiting lists have reduced. Surely this must be good news. The government think so, even suggesting it is evidence of the success of the Bedroom Tax.
The DCLG said: “Council housing waiting lists have dropped by more than a third across England since 2012. With council housing starts now at the highest level for more than 20 years and local authorities having nearly £6bn of housing reserves and borrowing headroom, they’re well placed to build the homes their communities need.”
It would, indeed, be good news if more homes had been built, if people had been housed, and if there was less need. Of course the opposite is true. Fewer homes have been built, fewer people have been housed, and need has increased.
So how can waiting lists have reduced? By a slight of hand. Waiting lists have been reduced by removing people from the lists. The Localism Act 2011 gives councils powers to remove applicants. An Inside Housing investigation in 2014 showed more than 100,000 had been struck off.
Thank goodness we have a magazine like Inside Housing to dig, question, research and analyse. Afterall we wouldn’t want to become like the United States has become since Friday, where government relies of “different facts” or as some people might call it, “lies”.
“Joined up government” was a mantra of the 1997 Labour government. Unfortunately, it never really did take root, and inefficiencies and additional cost continue to result from a silo approach at both national and local levels.
The absence of accommodation for rough sleepers results in cost, not so much for housing and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), but for the Department of Health and the NHS. Rough sleepers are far more likely to require ambulance callouts, attendances at Accident and Emergency departments, and unplanned hospital admissions.
I have written a great deal in recent weeks about specialist supported housing services. The results of austerity, and cuts to and the decommissioning of services, should be of great concern to local mental health services. Any reduction in bed spaces will result in delayed discharges from psychiatric hospitals, rough sleeping, and worsening mental health.
And then there is, of course, the human cost which cannot be quantified in monetary terms.
There is a joint working group involving the DCLG and the Department for Work and Pensions is looking at the funding model for specialist supported housing. I think it is a critical error that the Department of Health is not involved because (other than clients) it has most to lose if rents in special supported housing is capped at Local Housing Allowance levels.
A & E admissions are already at record levels and, I understand, delayed discharge levels are now at 160,000 days lost per month. I think that the loss of specialist supported housing would mean that vulnerable people ready to be discharged from hospital would have nowhere else to go and there would be a further surge in delayed discharges and rough sleeping, the consequences would be catastrophic for local mental health services and for rough sleepers.
I have written quite a lot about the Right to Buy, most recently on 19th February 2015.
Discounts were raised in April 2012 and since then more than 26,000 social homes have been sold. Government has promised a one for one replacement for all council homes lost through Right to Buy. Last year the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said just4,795 new homes had been started by councils between April 2012 and last September using Right to Buy receipts. This is far from a one to one replacement.
This week the DCLG has admitted that the situation is far worse – that the 4,795 figure was an overestimate, and that there have been just 2,298 replacement homes.
It is not clear how the department made this error. In said that there had been ‘a substantial revision of figures by 68 local authorities’.
All this demonstrates the chasm between a politician willing something to happen in response to a policy and the reality.
Let’s end this nonsense talk of giving council houses away, and put on hold any further Right to Buy sales until there is a credible plan from the department that shows precisely how a one to one replacement will be achieved, if indeed it can be.
Perhaps a more realistic approach would be to suspend Right to Buy indefinitely.