Grant Shapps: ‘Government must cling on to rough sleeping gains’
The Transport Secretary recently signed a homelessness charter to stop rough sleeping at train stations. He tells The Big Issue that ‘best thinking and huge amounts of energy’ are needed prevent winter homelessness
Shapps stressed that it was “an extraordinary effort” to get people into shelter but that success must now be built on.
But while the Everyone In scheme was wound down when Covid-19 restrictions eased in the summer, there is no sign of similar plans taking shape as measures to combat the virus ramp up again and temperatures begin to drop.
Government spending on rough sleeping this year has topped half a billion pounds with promises of 3,300 homes inside 12 months for rough sleepers housed during the pandemic and 6,000 over the next four years. The £433 million funding to find those homes was accelerated the request of Dame Louise Casey, who quit her role as the head of the Rough Sleeping Task Force in August.
But Shapps insists that the Government’s summer efforts show that it can protect rough sleepers and hit their 2024 target.
“Perhaps we are starting from a lower base but winter is always phenomenally difficult and there is always that extra push to try and help people off the streets,” said Shapps.”I think what we want to do this year is to try and cling on to some of the gains that we’ve had by helping and persuading people to come off the streets.
“It’s a big commitment (to end rough sleeping by 2024) and needs a programme to match. “One of the things about Covid is that it showed we can do things: we managed to get huge numbers of people off the streets. It does show what we’re capable of when we put our minds to it.”
While now on the transport brief, Shapps was Housing Minister between 2010 and 2012, and claims credit for transforming StreetLink – a vital service that allows the public to make support services aware of rough sleepers – from a phone line into an app.
Shapps wants to make this service part of his plan to end rough sleeping at transport hubs. This week, he signed a homelessness charter alongside Network Rail and British Transport Police in the hope it will encourage station staff and passengers to look out for people using stations for shelter to connect them with support.
I think we have to put together all the best thinking and huge amounts of energy to resolve homelessness
It is one of the methods that the government is hoping will help end rough sleeping but Britain’s housing crisis means that finding permanent accommodation remains a challenge, with some local authorities still housing rough sleepers while they search for properties.
Welwyn Hatfield MP Shapps insists that the government is better equipped with the £11.5bn Affordable Homes Programme to tackle the long-running problem than when he was in charge of the housing purse strings.
Shapps said: “Often we then get stuck with there not being enough homes. But, then again, the Affordable Housing Programme is massive – these numbers by the way in comparison to when I was housing minister were phenomenal. I didn’t have that kind of cash, it was austerity and the Coalition Government. This is three times the size and a big programme so hopefully we can help a lot of people through that.”
And when asked if he would consider ideas from The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance, he added: “I think we have to put together all the best thinking and huge amounts of energy to resolve homelessness. In a civilised country people shouldn’t live on our streets and it shouldn’t be a problem. You’ve got to use every possible resource, every programme, every idea to help every individual.”
Urgent action is needed to prevent even more people being pushed into homelessness. A secure home is the first step in addressing the cruel cycle of poverty to ensure people can fulfil their potential. Join us to keep people in their homes.