Housing

Government funding to tackle rough sleeping is 'bare minimum' of what's needed, campaigners say

Homelessness minister Felicity Buchan announced £34 million funding to provide 4,300 extra beds for rough sleepers after Homeless Link revealed more than three-quarters of services have seen cuts

rough sleeping

The Conservative government has pledged to end rough sleeping in England by the end of 2024. Image: Jon Tyson / Unsplash

People experiencing rough sleeping will be given more options to get off the street as the government has announced new funding to provide bed spaces in some of England’s street homelessness hot spots.

Homelessness minister Felicity Buchan announced £34.6 million will be invested in providing 4,300 additional beds and 630 more support staff across 84 areas in England experiencing the greatest rough sleeping pressures.

The announcement comes a year after the government set out its rough sleeping strategy and less than 15 months until the 2019 Conservative manifesto promise to end rough sleeping for good by the end of 2024 must be delivered.

Rising rough sleeping figures in recent months has called into question whether ministers will hit that target. In an exclusive piece written for The Big Issue, Buchan admitted rising rough sleeping in recent months is a “great concern”.  

“One year on from the launch of our ground-breaking strategy we remain as committed as ever to ending rough sleeping,” said Buchan.

“The full weight of government remains behind this very important pledge, and this can be seen in today’s funding boost to provide thousands more beds and hundreds more support staff into the heart of communities where they are most needed.”

Buchan said the new funding is on top of the £500m already promised to fund the Rough Sleeping Initiative over three years. So far, that money has funded 14,000 beds for rough sleepers and 3,000 staff to provide tailored support across England.

This money will go to areas most in need of support to help get people off the street more quickly; provide more move-on accommodation; help people keep their tenancies; and provide tailored support.

Overall, the government said it is spending £2bn over years on tackling the issue through its rough sleeping strategy, including funding Housing First pilots, accommodation for ex-offenders and targeted drug and alcohol treatment.

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But it remains to be seen, in the face of the cost of living crisis, whether this will be enough.

England’s official rough sleeping snapshot showed more than 3,000 people were estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night last autumn. That 26% annual increase was the first rise for four years and the biggest year-on-year surge since 2015.

More recently, the London-only Chain figures showed a 10% increase in a year driven by a 12% rise in the number of people newly sleeping rough.

Last week, Homeless Link found frontline homelessness services were struggling to keep up with the cost of living crisis.

The charity, which is the national membership body for frontline groups, found almost a quarter of homelessness accommodation providers in England had seen a decrease in funding since 2021. Meanwhile, a further 56% of services reported no change in funding, which amounts to a real-terms cut as inflation has risen.

The fall in funding has continued the trend of the last decade. A fifth of accommodation services had consistently reported a decrease in funding since 2012 with the number of services falling by a third from 1,362 to 911 and the number of bed spaces falling by a fifth to 33,093. 

Homeless Link did acknowledge that the number of accommodation services grew by 2% in 2022, but this was driven by a 16% increase in London while every other English region recorded a drop or no change in numbers since 2021.

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“Homelessness services have been hit hard by the cost of living crisis, so any support for the sector is welcome,” said Rick Henderson, Homeless Link chief executive.

“However, our research found almost a quarter of homelessness accommodation providers have seen a decrease in funding since 2021. Many have scaled back or even closed down as a result, with this funding nowhere near enough to plug the gap.”

While the government’s latest announcement focuses on relieving rough sleeping, Henderson said ministers should focus on preventing homelessness by investing in affordable social housing and raising local housing allowance to help people on low incomes.

Henderson said: “The government must act to turn off the tap of homelessness in the first place. We need a commitment to sufficient, sustainable funding of the services that offer a lifeline to people who do fall through the gaps and find themselves without a place to call home.”

Homelessness charity Crisis announced last month that offices in Rotherham and Coventry would be closed due to reduced income and rising costs.

The charity’s chief executive Matt Downie said the new government funding does not do enough to prevent homelessness and echoed calls for increased housing benefit and more affordable homes.

“While it’s positive to see the Westminster government providing funding to support people sleeping rough, it is the bare minimum of what’s required,” said Downie. “All forms of homelessness are increasing. A combination of rising living costs, soaring rents and huge demand for properties is leaving households across Britain unable to find or keep an affordable home.

“The emphasis must be on tackling rather than ‘managing’ homelessness. Truly affordable homes, rather than beds, are desperately needed – without this, people who are helped off the streets run the risk of being forced to return as there is simply nowhere affordable for them to live long-term.”

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