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'Act now or street homelessness will skyrocket', ministers warned

Now is the 'pivotal moment' to stop surging street homelessness, warns Kerslake Commission, in call for long-term plan and universal credit u-turn

rough sleeping

Failing to act now to prevent rising rough sleeping could see the government miss its 2024 target. Image: Jon Tyson / Unsplash

The government must “act quickly and decisively” to prevent surging rough sleeping in the months ahead, an independent review into homelessness during the pandemic has concluded.

The Kerslake Commission’s final report called on leaders to develop an overarching rough sleeping strategy to keep people off the streets in the long-term. Failing to act will mean the Everyone In scheme’s efforts to protect rough sleepers in the pandemic will be wasted while ministers risk failing to deliver the manifesto promise to end rough sleeping by 2024.

Or [the government] can delay, watch as homelessness surges again, and rue what could have been

Lord Bob Kerslake

But, in the short-term, Westminster leaders must keep the £20 universal credit increase – which is due to be axed in weeks – to stop rising street homelessness, former head of the civil service Lord Bob Kerslake warned.

“There is no single thing which can be done to end homelessness,” he said. “It must be about both housing and health. What is needed is a series of actions covering prevention, early response, and new provision. If this is done we know what can be achieved – we have seen it in action over the past 18 months.

“But without decisive and urgent action, backed with appropriate funding ‘Everyone In’ risks becoming a footnote in the history of the battle to end homelessness.

“This is a pivotal moment. The government can take positive action, follow these recommendations and maximise its opportunity to change the future not only for those who experienced homelessness during the pandemic, but for generations to come.

“Or it can delay, watch as homelessness surges again, and rue what could have been.”

The commission convened in March 2021 to assess how the UK government had responded to protect rough sleepers after ministers launched the Everyone In scheme during the pandemic. The initiative saw more than 37,000 rough sleepers and vulnerable people protected from the virus in hotels and other emergency accommodation throughout the pandemic. 

The move was largely considered a success, but the Kerslake Commission found failing to bring forward the lessons learned from Everyone In and acting to prevent others falling into homelessness will see the effort wasted.

In July’s interim report, Lord Kerslake said an extra £82m a year was needed to ensure the “principles and funding” behind Everyone In were maintained to end rough sleeping in the long-term.

Thursday’s final report gives 12 recommendations to politicians, homelessness organisations, housing providers, local authorities and health providers to act upon to prevent surging homelessness in the months ahead.

Sign our petition to #StopMassHomelessness

Lord Kerslake urged ministers to develop a long-term rough sleeping strategy through the new inter-ministerial group on rough sleeping with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) to report annually on performance.

The Homelessness Reduction Act’s duty to refer should also be extended beyond councils to include health organisations, the Department of Work and Pensions and Ministry of Justice.

Other recommendations included a new quality assurance framework and national register to ensure homes for homeless people are safe, establishing a clear policy on non-UK nationals who are forced into destitution as they cannot access state support. 

Lord Kerslake warned rising energy prices, inflation and national insurance taxes as well as the end of pandemic support measures like the £20 universal credit increase and furlough scheme puts more people at risk of homelessness.

It’s a warning Big Issue founder Lord John Bird has also been sounding in previous months through The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign.

“The Kerslake Commission’s report highlights the urgency of the mass homelessness crisis that we are facing,” said Lord Bird. “The Government must rightly build on the progress made by ‘Everyone In’ and commit to prioritising prevention measures.

“It’s important to keep people in their homes because if they slip into homelessness it is more costly and more socially damaging. Suspend no-fault evictions, pay off rent arrears and support people into sustainable jobs and training. We must keep people in their homes at all costs.”

A LUHC spokesperson told The Big Issue: “Everyone In protected thousands of rough sleepers throughout the pandemic with 26,000 already moved into long-term accommodation.

“We’re building on that success and the 37% reduction in rough sleeping since last year, by working across government to end it for good – backed by an unprecedented £750 million investment this year.

“We welcome this report and will carefully consider the commission’s findings.”

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