Opinion

Autumn Statement: What Jeremy Hunt needs to do to end rough sleeping for good

If cuts to homelessness services are not averted at the Autumn Statement the Tories will never hit their target of ending rough sleeping by 2024, writes Homeless Link chief executive Rick Henderson

homelessness rough sleeping Autumn Statement

Rising inflation means frontline homelessness services face a real-terms cut to their budgets. Image: Levi Meir Clancy / Unsplash

In August of this year, 28 of the country’s leading homelessness charities wrote to the two Conservative leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. In the letter we warned that, after four years’ of falls in rough sleeping due to the pandemic response, we were now at a “precipice” and that without governmental intervention, we feared many more people could be forced into homelessness as the cost of living crisis starts to bite. 

Sunak’s team sent us a detailed response to the letter. “Ensuring that everyone has a roof over their head is absolutely crucial to Rishi” they said, “and despite the economic circumstances Rishi is still committed to ending rough sleeping once and for all by 2024.”

This commitment is all well and good, but unfortunately the reality on the ground three months on is very different. Homeless Link has close to 900 member organisations across England working on the frontline of this issue. I regularly hear stories from concerned services of more people sleeping rough, with one organisation that supports around 300 people each day in the east of England warning they are now seeing the “first wave of a potential tsunami” of homelessness.

In London, this trend is born out through the most recent statistics from the homelessness database Chain, with rough sleeping up by 24 per cent compared to 2021, while national local authority data shows evictions from private tenancies leading to homelessness are up by over 100 per cent on the previous year. 

The majority of homelessness services are commissioned through local government contracts. The government allocated the funding for these contracts in October 2021, when inflation was just over 4 per cent. Since then, it has more than doubled, while charities across the country are deeply concerned about what will happen once the government’s current energy support ends early next year. 

Everyone deserves a safe place to live and the support they need to keep it. But, as inflation continues to send costs rocketing alongside long-term funding deficits and staff shortages, a previously stretched homelessness sector is now in crisis. At Homeless Link, we recently polled our members, receiving 77 responses from organisations across the country. 92 per cent agreed they’re worried the rising cost of living will affect their ability to maintain service and support standards, while over one in four stated the cost of living crisis may force services to close.  

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Both Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt have spoken of the need to make “tough decisions’ when it comes to public spending in the upcoming Autumn Statement. Homelessness charities have been down this road before. Recent history shows us that cuts (actual or real-term) to public spending  cause homelessness and rough sleeping to increase. Indeed, between 2010 and 2017, during which the government adopted an austerity programme, rough sleeping rose by 169 per cent. At the same time, the number of people who died while experiencing homelessness increased by nearly a quarter between 2012 and 2017.  

I have not spoken to a single service whose local authority has the resources to uplift the funding for their work in line with inflation. Without this uplift, homelessness services will be forced to scale back the support they offer or close their doors altogether. just as they are seeing a surge in people needing their support. 

My message to Sunak and Hunt is simple. An actual or real-terms cut to homelessness funding is unthinkable for a sector already in crisis. If you are serious about ending rough sleeping in England, homelessness services must receive a funding uplift in line with inflation in the Autumn Statement on November 17. 

Proper funding will give services across the country the resources to continue to prevent and end people’s homelessness. It will allow services to pay their staff – who continually show huge reserves of resilience and compassion – a better wage. It will enable them to be proactive, supporting people within community settings and providing the person-centred, holistic support that we know is most effective. 

Without an uplift, we face a very real scenario of people made homeless having no where to turn for support. If Sunak is committed to “ensuring everyone has a roof over their head”, his government must take action to prevent this.

Rick Henderson is the chief executive of Homeless Link, the national membership charity for organisations working directly with people who become homeless in England

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