Helping for the homeless.

Socialise and chat about other areas of your life
123 posts
Two-thirds of councils say they can’t afford to comply with homelessness law.

A year on from the Homelessness Reduction Act, councils fear lack of funds will hamper efforts to keep people housed and off the streets.
Austerity's pitiless logic: however little you have, it can still be taken away.

Cuts have forced councils to prioritise emergency support for homeless families. Single homeless people have paid the price.


New analysis of council spending in England has exposed a cruel twist in the homelessness scandal: single homeless people are paying the price for the growing number of families in desperate need of shelter.

The true scale of homelessness is obscured thanks to the official figures being inherently unreliable. But as an investigation by WPI Economics for the charities St Mungo’s and Homeless Link makes clear, even by the government’s own reckoning, more than 4,500 people were sleeping rough in England last year while more than 80,000 households were in temporary accommodation.

According to 2017 figures from the charity Crisis, the number of households in England, Scotland and Wales defined as suffering “core” homelessness – which includes all forms of temporary shelter such as rough sleeping, sofa surfing, squatting and hostels as well as temporary housing – is likely to be about 160,000. It rose by 33% between 2011 and 2016.

In 2017, almost 600 people died sleeping rough in England and Wales, aged, on average, just 47.

The WPI analysis shows that, between 2008-09 and 2017-18, spending by English local authorities on homelessness-related activity fell by 27% from £2.8bn to just over £2bn. During this time, the number of rough sleepers more than doubled and the number of households accepted as eligible for homelessness support rose by more than a third.

But within these figures, spending on family homelessness increased by more than 20%, while spending on single homelessness fell by more than 50%.

The collapse in support for single homeless people is entirely due to a two-thirds reduction in spending on the Supporting People programme, a government scheme launched in 2003 to help people live independently, after a ringfence protecting the money was removed in 2009.

Meanwhile, the cost of temporary accommodation for homeless families rose by around a quarter. So in the face of drastic cuts to local authority spending, councils have been forced to prioritise emergency accommodation for homeless families at the expense of support for single homeless people.

The data for individual regions rams this point home. Councils in the north-west of England cut total spending on homelessness by 56%. But they did so by increasing spending on families by 56% while cutting support for single homeless people by 73%.

Similarly, total funding in the West Midlands was cut by 42% but support for families increased by 15%, while funding for single homeless people fell by 59%. Variations on this pattern were played out across the country. In every region, there has been a fall of at least a third in spending on single homeless people.

The practical implications are devastating. Despite rising demand, the number of beds in England for single homeless people has fallen from 50,000 to 35,000 in nine years, and thresholds for help have been tightened.

The report spells out that if total expenditure on homelessness had stayed constant, an additional £5bn would have been spent over the past nine years. Set against this, the trivial amounts periodically thrown at the problem by ministers when the political pressure gets too intense – such as £20m for the homelessness prevention trailblazers programme and £76m over two years for the rough sleeping initiative fund – are exposed as a cruel deception.

All this is happening as other government policies pile on the pressure for people living on the margins. To name just two, the freeze in local housing allowance makes rents increasingly unaffordable while cuts in substance misuse treatments kick away another source of help.

Even the Homelessness Reduction Act – intended to increase help for people not in priority need – may be having the unintended consequence of driving resources towards crisis management rather than early intervention because when councils are faced with the choice of what to cut, taking money out of preventive or early intervention services is less likely to put them in breach of their statutory duties.

It is difficult to conceive a more warped approach to social justice than single homeless people, in effect, footing the bill for supporting homeless families. The WPI research reveals the remorseless, pitiless logic of a decade of austerity. However little you have, there is still some more to take away.
Exclusion of poor tenants highlights fatal flaw in housing policy.

The government’s pledge to tackle rough sleeping is utterly thwarted by its welfare reforms and spending cuts.


The revelation in the Crisis annual homelessness monitor that housing associations are routinely excluding the poorest tenants – including homeless people – will shock anyone who believes that the cheapest form of housing should be accessible to the least well-off.

Anecdotally, the practice of excluding risky prospective tenants because they have failed to pass financial capability assessments has been known for some time: the monitor fleshes out the widespread concern that councils now have that the policy is actively undermining their attempts to house homeless people.

Certainly, the financial pressures faced by housing associations are real – universal credit, for example, drives most claimants into rent arrears because of the minimum five-week waiting time for a first payment. Many private landlords won’t take benefit claimants because of the risks – so why should social landlords?

The policy highlights the contradictory policies at the heart of government: on the one hand, a promise to tackle rough sleeping, homelessness and insecurity faced by the “just about managing”; on the other, a suite of welfare reforms and spending cuts that are guaranteed to turbo-charge the very social ills they want to do away with.

It is also about dire poverty. One chief executive tells an anecdote of a prospective housing association tenant turned down for a flat after he inquired where the central heating dial was so that he could turn it off. Anyone too poor to afford to heat their home was surely too great a risk to offer a tenancy to, the argument went.

The latest Crisis monitor points out how this dire situation has been brought about by the failure to build more social housing – which means social sector lets to new tenants are at half the rate they were 20 years ago – and by the catastrophic continuing sell-off of council housing under the right to buy scheme.

The monitor points out that councils are not entirely innocent parties. Some, for political reasons, have chosen to adopt lettings policies predicated on the idea of “local homes for local people”, imposing eligibility criteria such as local connections that deliberately de-prioritise homeless people.

The issue is more about access to social housing than eviction, however. Housing association repossession rates are at their lowest level since 2000, the monitor points out. Many associations pride themselves on supporting tenants through benefit advice or employment skills training.

Some housing associations, however, are worried that the practice reflects an abandonment of the sector’s historic purpose – forged in the white heat of 1960s homelessness activism – in favour of a corporate mindset, obsessed with profit and driven by a narrow conception of value for money.

Some still squirm at the memory of the former Genesis Housing Association chief executive Neil Haddon who, in 2015, declared that it would no longer build properties for social rent. Asked about his organisation’s responsibility to house the poor, Haddon notoriously answered: “That won’t be my problem.”

At the time, housing associations faced an existential threat. Austerity measures introduced by the coalition cut their government grant by 60%. The former chancellor George Osborne imposed rent cuts and threatened to privatise them. Housing association tenants would be given the right to buy their rented home.

Some associations embraced commercial disciplines to counter the threat, moving into private property development and redefining their social rented stock as “affordable” – enabling them to raise rents. Their performance targets focused on metrics such as “homes built” and “customer satisfaction”.

Tony Stacey, the chief executive of South Yorkshire housing association, says the sector is now fighting back. A group of around 80 associations have formed the Homes for Cathy group – named after the seminal 1960s homelessness drama Cathy Come Home – to push for a restoration of the sector’s mission to serve homeless people.

He wants corporate performance metrics introduced that recognise housing associations’ social obligations: numbers of homeless people housed, for example, or reductions in numbers of evictions. “The social mission is definitely there in the majority of associations. But it can get lost.”
123 posts