The Homeless Reduction Bill is to be debated for the second time on the 28th October. It proposes new duties for local authorities to:
• Take action to prevent the homelessness of anyone eligible for assistance (e.g. ‘habitually resident’ in the UK) and threatened with homelessness within 56 days, without regard to their priority need status.
• Take steps to relieve the homelessness of anyone who is currently homeless, eligible for assistance and who has a local connection to the area.
• For households who are not in priority need but have nowhere to stay, the local authority must provide emergency interim accommodation for up to 56 days.
I’m in favour of anything which helps to prevent and reduce homelessness, or indeed raises homelessness in national policy debates. However, I’m circumspect about the ability of a piece of legislation focused on statutory duties, which does not come with associated resources, to make an impact across homelessness, especially in these times of reducing public finances.
When I first started working with people who are homeless, in 2006, first in the voluntary sector then for a brief period in local authority, the duties proposed in this bill were already happening in the good local authorities. There was resource for a whole raft of prevention measures, and a clear direction to prevent homelessness across client groups, not just people in priority need, and work in partnership to achieve this. Those local authorities that are focused on social inclusion are still trying really hard to prevent homelessness and provide support for people who do lose their home.
The rise in homelessness and rough sleeping since 2010 is concurrent with the reduction in resources to local authorities, plus rising rents, and benefit reductions and sanctions. Additionally, the focus on building homes for people to buy and the stopping of building social rented housing has reduced options not only for the poorest people in our communities but also for a huge number of people who in the past may have been able to access social housing but are now priced out of the private rented sector.
Changing Lives works with people who face severe social exclusion, often as a result of trauma, abuse, poor mental health, and/or addictions: we know intensive support for parents in children’s early years can keep children out of the care system; we know that youth work helps divert young people away from homelessness; we know that good mental health interventions can prevent crisis; we know that traumatic life events can begin a spiral towards homelessness that can be stopped with the right early intervention services in place. These are all areas that are continuing to see reductions in funding.
For many of the clients that Changing Lives works with, prevention needs to happen a long time before they are 56 days away from the streets.
So I think we should probably support the Homeless Reduction Bill, but let’s not forget there’s an awful lot more to preventing homelessness than legislation. We must call for extra resources to enable local authorities to actually deliver on it.
Homeless Link are currently campaigning to get as many MPs as possible to attend the debate, to ensure it isn’t ‘talked out’ on a day that is usually reserved for constituency duties. They need at least 100 MPs to attend the Bil debate on 28th October to give this piece of legislation a fair chance. You can find out more about the Homelessness Reduction Bill and Homeless Link’s campaign about the Bill, including a template letter for MPs, at the Homeless Link website.