Becky Elton, Director at Changing Lives, reflects on the recent flurry of publications focusing on homelessness in the UK.

This week’s report on homelessness from the National Audit Office clearly highlights the negative impact that welfare reform has had and its direct contribution to the increase in homelessness in the UK.

As a national charity which has been working with and supporting people who are homeless for over 40 years, Changing Lives welcome this formal recognition of something that we have known for some time.

Their recommendation that the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions work together to address this, and that a national cross-government strategy to address homelessness is published, are a welcome first step to helping decision-makers understand the full implications of welfare changes to the most vulnerable in society.

The last couple of months have seen the publication of a number of reports on homelessness.

As well as the National Audit Office report, which is also highly critical of DCLG’s light touch on homelessness:

  • Heriot Watt University and Crisis predict that the numbers of people experiencing homelessness will double in the next 25 years, and rough sleeping will quadruple;
  • Agenda’s Mapping the Maze research found that women who face homelessness are especially badly served, and even more so if they have complex needs

The Government’s response is that they have invested £550m. This is better than no investment, but the majority of the money which will directly help people who are homeless is for short term interventions.

It also comes after cutting huge chunks from local authority funding, which has inevitably affected in-house and voluntary sector support for people who are homeless.

The much-lauded Homeless Reduction Act has also been welcomed, but it, in essence, is doing what good local authorities were doing 10 years ago, albeit now with statutory duties attached.

This fails to address three significant factors in rising homelessness.

  1. The out-of-control housing market coupled with a focus on home ownership for the past seven years has meant that rents are increasingly unaffordable and social housing is reducing. The English Housing Costs and Affordability Report found that average rents were the same as average mortgage payments (and in London average rents were more than a mortgage).
  1. Welfare reform has meant that the poorest people in our society have become poorer, and less able to afford to their housing costs. The benefits freeze and caps, bedroom tax, delays in Universal Credit payments (forcing people to go into debt), harsh sanctions for people not meeting unrealistic targets for job hunting plus rising inflation and housing costs mean that many more people are struggling, including people in-work whose wages have not kept pace with inflation.
  1. We know that people experiencing childhood trauma and traumatic events later in life are more likely to become homeless. This trauma can include the experience of losing a home as a child, so recreates the cycle of homelessness down the generations. Reducing homelessness now, plus early identification of trauma and accessible mental health support should be a key part of any plan to end homelessness.

We welcome the NAO  recommendations and hope that the government goes even further, recognising the interconnected factors that lead to homelessness and using the wealth of knowledge and experience that sits within the voluntary sector and the people who use our services about what prevents and relieves homelessness to create a national strategy that works for everyone.

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