Politics

Government 'unacceptably complacent' towards homelessness, claim MPs

A damning Public Accounts Committee report has called for a cross-governmental strategy on tackling homelessness to be drawn up by June next year after branding England's statistics a "national crisis"

A committee of MPs have blasted the government’s “unacceptable complacency” in addressing the “national crisis” of homelessness in England.

The damning Public Accounts Committee report warned that there are more than 9,000 people sleeping rough across the country while 78,180 households, including 120,170 children, are classed as homeless and housed in temporary accommodation.

The Department for Communities and Local Government should publish a cross-government strategy for reducing homelessness by the end of June 2018, recommends the committee, to halt the rising figures. Since 2010 the number of households in temporary accommodation, for example, has increased by more than 60 per cent while the number of people who sleep rough has skyrocketed by 134 per cent since March 2011.

MPs also suggested that the government target of ending rough sleeping by 2027 was “the tip of the iceberg”, warning that the Communities and Work and Pensions departments need to assess the impact of its work on homelessness, rather than “ignoring the impact of the decisions it makes, including freezing and capping local housing allowance as part of welfare reforms”.

The standard of temporary housing also came under fire for poor standards and failing to represent value for money. The decreasing number of homes available for social rent has seen local authorities turn to private accommodation providers, causing the committee to plead for a fresh supply of affordable housing.

Ahead of the introduction of the Homeless Reduction Act next year, a new data system is being introduced by the government to track the experiences of those living with the issue every day. But the committee remains ‘sceptical’ about the system and suggested that it must assess hidden homelessness and the wider costs of homelessness to public services as well as allowing local authorities to access information on people accessing the welfare system.

The report concludes: “The Department for Communities and Local Government’s attitude to reducing homelessness has been unacceptably complacent. The limited action that it has taken has lacked the urgency that is so badly needed and its “light touch” approach to working with the local authorities tackling homelessness has clearly failed.

“The department is placing great reliance on the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 to provide the solution to homelessness. While this new legislation will no doubt help, it cannot be successful unless it is matched by a renewed focus across government on tackling the twin issues of both the supply and affordability of decent housing, which underlie the causes of homelessness.”

A Government spokesman said: “Tackling homelessness is a complex issue with no single solution, but we are determined to help the most vulnerable in society.

“That’s why we are providing over £1 billion up to 2020 to reduce all forms of homelessness and rough sleeping and we are bringing in the Homelessness Reduction Act, which is the most ambitious reform in decades, to ensure people get support sooner.

“In addition, we have established a Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce across government, with support from experts, so we can respond as effectively as possible.”

Responding to the report, Lord John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, said: “The Homelessness Reduction Act is a very, very useful step in the right direction. However, if there’s no change in the supply of accommodation to ensure we can meet demand, it becomes a piece of legislation that only serves to assist people who’ve fallen into grief but actually shouldn’t be in that precarious position in the first place.

“As this report shows, the people we see sleeping rough and living on our streets represent the mere tip of the iceberg. The fact that the ‘hidden homeless’ aren’t even included in the final figures show the extent of the problem.

“I call on the government to re-prioritise their focus on the root causes of poverty. At The Big Issue Group, we’re working to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity, and by offering the most vulnerable people in our society a hand up, not a hand-out.

“We exist to help those who are precariously housed, as well as those who find themselves out on the streets. But, more than ever, we need to find new, and additional ways to ensure that people don’t find themselves homeless in the first place.”

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