John Bird and homelessness sector react to Jeremy Hunt’s Housing First pledge

"The £30m pledge falls well short of covering the £5bn cut in spending on support services for homeless people" says The Big Issue Foundation CEO Stephen Robertson

Writing exclusively for The Big Issue, Jeremy Hunt this week pledged to fast-track a Housing First policy to tackle the homelessness crisis. But his words have met with a mixed response from homelessness experts.

While Hunt is trailing his rival for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson, in the polls among Tory membership, he was first to respond to The Big Issue’s request that the men vying to be the next Prime Minister outline their policies on homelessness.

We need a holistic approach… otherwise, the current government’s failure to get to grips with poverty will only worsen

Hunt pledged to roll out the Housing First policy that has been trailed in Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands into London and other key cities, with an extra £30million in funding. He also vowed that any government he leads would work harder to tackle “the scourge of illiteracy.”

Lord John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, responded with caution. He said: “Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson have both been key figures in governments that have overseen a huge rise in homelessness since 2010.

“So while we welcome Mr. Hunt’s commitment to a Housing First policy that’s proved to be effective in both preventing and reducing homelessness, we’ll be holding him to his word to ensure that his pledge is followed up with cold, hard cash and, more importantly, a cross-departmental strategy to tackle the root causes of poverty, not just its symptoms.

“His focus on literacy is overdue, but welcome, and must also form part of the holistic approach we need to be taking to dismantling poverty and protecting future generations. Otherwise, the current government’s failure to get to grips with poverty will only worsen.”

Housing First is proven to help those in the most vulnerable situations

However, Matthew Downie, director of policy at Crisis, offered a more optimistic reading of Hunt’s pledge.

He told The Big Issue: “It’s fantastic to see that on the day Housing First has launched in Liverpool, one of our Prime Ministerial candidates Jeremy Hunt has committed to scaling up it up across the country. The amount of support behind it – as well as the overwhelming evidence for how effective it is – goes to show how crucial this scheme is if we as a country are truly committed to ending homelessness once and for all.

“Housing First is proven to help those in the most vulnerable situations. Our research shows that there are at least 18,000 people homeless today who need the scheme. Beyond a physical home, it helps people to rebuild their mental, emotional, and physical health by providing the support they need to truly leave homelessness behind.

“That’s why it must form a crucial part of the pledges made by both candidates. Alongside investment in social housing and welfare, it’s key to ending homelessness for good.”

The £30m pledge falls well short of covering the £5bn cut in spending on support services for homeless people

Stephen Robertson, CEO of The Big Issue Foundation also weighed in, pointing out that Hunt has been in the cabinet (alongside Johnson) that has overseen a huge increase in homelessness and that the £30m pledge falls well short of covering the £5bn cut in spending on support services for homeless people in England in the last decade.

He said: “Official figures from, Shelter established that there are 320,000 people currently homeless in the UK. This equates to a year on year increase of 13,000, +4%, which is the equivalent to 36 new people becoming homeless every single day.

“At the same time Government spending on support services for single homeless people in England is £5bn less than it was in 2009 despite rough sleeping rising by 165% over the same period. It was more recently revealed that London has over 8,800 rough sleeping on the streets of the capital, +18% on 2017/18’s shocking statistics.

“Government commitments to tackle the scourge of homelessness in our country should always be welcomed. Mr Hunt suggests that his proposed investment of  £30m could remove 1000 people of the streets. For each individual that would undoubtedly be life changing however the shocking and persistent increase demonstrated by the statistics illustrates that we need more then potentially popularist knee jerk reaction to the Government created humanitarian crisis that plagues our country.”

Boris Johnson was also asked for his policy on homelessness and poverty prevention.

Image: Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock