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Housing

‘It’s a big worry’: Michael Gove hints government could miss target to end rough sleeping

Housing secretary Gove said progress in ending street homelessness is “not likely to be sustained” in the next few months

Michael Gove has cast doubt on whether the government will achieve its aim of ending rough sleeping in two years’ time.

The Conservative government made a 2019 manifesto pledge to end rough sleeping by the end of 2024.

But housing secretary Gove told MPs at the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee that hitting the target was a “big worry” and said the cost of living crisis meant it was “more difficult to deliver”.

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“I’m not saying it’s the wrong thing to aim for,” Gove told MPs. “It’s just we’re in a world where a number of very important policy aims and ambitions that we have have become more difficult to deliver. I don’t want to try to trumpet that it’s all going fine because it’s not.”  

Official rough sleeping figures in England have declined in recent years, helped in part by the impact of the pandemic when the Everyone In scheme saw thousands of people housed in hotels and other emergency accommodation.

The latest official rough sleeping snapshot shows an estimated 2,440 people were counted as sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2021. That was down almost 10 per cent on 2020 and almost half the figure recorded when rough sleeping peaked in 2017.

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It was, however, still 38 per cent higher than in 2010 when 1,768 people were counted on England’s streets.

The London-only Chain figures, considered more accurate than the official count, also showed the number of people spotted rough sleeping in the English capital was down by a quarter between April 2021 and March 2022.

However, since then there have been several warnings from homelessness charities and campaigners that the cost of living crisis risks undoing the progress.

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More recent quarterly Chain figures released last month showed frontline workers spotted 3,628 people on London’s streets between July and September – a quarter higher than the same three-month period in 2021. London mayor Sadi Khan called for ministers to act to “prevent a revolving door of homelessness”.

The Kerslake Commission – a group of experts set up to evaluate how to meet the target of ending rough sleeping – said in September that an eviction ban and an increase in benefits would be needed to prevent a “catastrophic” impact on homelessness.

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While benefits were increased along with inflation at last week’s Autumn Statement, there was no additional help for private renters. In recent months, the number of households contacting councils for help or heading to court after receiving an eviction notice has surged. 

Gove said pressures such as rising inflation, the cost of living and local authorities housing Ukraine refugees who have become homeless is leading to “difficulties”. Between February 24 and October 21, 2,175 Ukrainian households needed council support for homelessness, government figures show.

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The housing secretary also said discussions were ongoing with the Treasury over extending payments to local authorities and ‘thank you’ payments for households under Ukraine refugee schemes.

“There is pressure in these areas that means that the good progress that Eddie [Hughes, former rough sleeping minister] has made isn’t likely to be sustained in the next few months,” said Gove.

“It is very much in my colleague [current rough sleeping minister] Felicity Buchan’s mind to look at every step we can take in order to deal with the increased pressure that local government will face dealing with homelessness.”

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As well as answering questions on rough sleeping, Gove also continued to warn social housing providers to improve standards following the inquest into the death of Awaab Ishak.

Gove said he had written to six housing providers – Catalyst, Clarion, Johnnie Johnson Housing, Onward Homes, PA Housing and Southern Housing – following the coroner’s verdict.

That continued Gove’s strategy of ‘naming and shaming’ housing providers for failing tenants – all six housing associations had received severe maladministration judgements from the Housing Ombudsman.

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