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Housing

Robert Jenrick says ending rough sleeping ‘isn’t high enough on the government’s agenda’

The former housing secretary told a Conservative Party conference fringe event that failure to end homelessness is a “stain on the record” of the Tories.

Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has warned there is not enough political will in the government to hit its target of ending rough sleeping by 2024.

Jenrick, who was sacked last month, told a Conservative Party Conference fringe event that getting other departments to “step up” will be a challenge his successor Michael Gove faces if he is to deliver on the Conservative manifesto promise.

“Some issues stay with you long after you have left a job. For me, this is true of homelessness – even though I have taken an involuntary sabbatical from government,” said Jenrick at the event hosted by Crisis and think tank Centre for Social Justice.

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“Other government departments need to step up – and currently they aren’t. The question to ask is: Is this issue high enough on the agenda in other government departments? Frankly, it isn’t.”

The backbench Conservative MP also said the failure to prevent rising rough sleeping was a “stain on the record of us as Conservatives” according to Inside Housing.

Rough sleeping decreased during Jenrick’s tenure as housing secretary, according to official figures, after he took over the role in July 2019.

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The count taken later that year found 4,266 slept rough across England – down nine per cent on 2018 – while there was a further reduction of 37 per cent as 2,688 people were counted as living on the streets. However, homelessness experts warn that the figures, taken from single-night counts and estimates, tend to underestimate the scale of the issue.


And while Jenrick’s tenure in cabinet saw declining figures, there were still almost 1,000 more people on the streets in 2020 than a decade earlier when the Conservatives came into power as part of the coalition government. 

The Everyone In scheme had a big impact on the recent decline. The programme saw more than 37,000 rough sleepers and vulnerable people protected in hotels and other emergency accommodation during the pandemic. Of those, an estimated 26,000 had moved into settled accommodation as of January.

Jenrick described the success of the scheme as “one of the few silver linings in the ‘dark cloud’ of Covid” at the event. He also added that rough sleeping and homelessness are “solvable issues that must be tackled”.

Solutions were among the discussions at the event with Jenrick joined by Cities of London and Westminster MP Nickie Aiken as well as Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes and Centre for Social Justice’s Joe Shalam.

Aiken continued her campaign to end the Vagrancy Act – the Victorian era law that criminalises rough sleeping.

Meanwhile, Sparkes spoke of the need to prevent homelessness in the first place through Housing First, genuinely affordable homes and support for people like survivors of domestic abuse and prison leavers who are at a higher risk of homelessness.

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The Big Issue is calling on the government to pay off £360m of rent arrears racked up during the pandemic, provide additional support for those struggling to pay rent or mortgages as well as suspending no-fault evictions to keep people in their homes. The campaign is also urging action to provide jobs and training in sustainable industries to keep people in work.

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