Opinion

Austerity has pushed young homeless people to back of queue for help. The government must act

More than 40,000 young people who asked councils for help with homelessness last year weren’t even assessed, according to Centrepoint. The charity’s policy and research manager Dr Tom Kerridge says filling councils’ £300m financial black hole is a ‘drop in the ocean’ compares to the benefits it would bring

Centrepoint on youth homelessness

Councils are legally obliged to support young people who approach them for help with homelessness but funding cuts mean thousands of youngsters missed out. Image: Kevin Laminto / Unsplash

Last year Centrepoint estimated that more than 119,000 young people in England faced homelessness – a record high and a 6% increase on the previous year.

Figures from the most recent financial year will no doubt show that the problem is getting worse, and new research commissioned by Centrepoint shows that local authorities are buckling under the strain of meeting their basic legal obligations to assess and support vulnerable young people.

Austerity has stripped back councils in England, meaning that they are simply not equipped to deal with these huge and increasing numbers.

It is a hugely brave moment when a young person approaches their local council to ask for help, but we estimate more than 40,000 of those who reached out last year weren’t even assessed and our latest data is shining a light on why.

Dr Tom Kerridge of youth homelessness charity Centrepoint
Dr Tom Kerridge says filling councils’ funding gap would bring plenty of benefits for society including tackling youth homelessness. Image: Centrepoint

The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) makes it a council’s legal duty to assess every person that presents to them, but it is becoming increasingly clear that they do not have the resources to carry out these duties. This then leads to councils having to make difficult decisions around who gets assessed and supported – and young people are often at the back of queue.

Despite significant investment from central government to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness more broadly over the last few years, it is evident that this is no longer enough. Demand for services and support is quickly outstripping supply and councils need more funding to deliver on their basic duties. But how much do they need?

Working with WPI Economics, we calculated how much additional funding councils across England would need to meet their obligations under the HRA. This involved creating a range of scenarios which accounted for a wide spectrum of needs and outcomes for young people: optimistic scenarios where cases are more easily prevented or relieved, pessimistic scenarios where young people are at a higher risk of homelessness, and a baseline scenario where all young people are assessed and their cases proceed in the same way as assessed cases.

From this, we found that councils across England are facing a £332m annual funding gap under the baseline scenario. One London Borough – Newham – would need as much as £32m to deliver on their duties. Others, including Liverpool, Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing, Cornwall and Bexley, would need in excess of £10m each.

However, these costs will be higher the more complex and difficult the cases become – in the most pessimistic scenario, where cases are much harder to relieve or prevent, councils could need up to £424m annually.

The largest expense comes from the main duty of the HRA and the cost of temporary accommodation (TA), which is becoming an increasingly difficult cost to bear for councils across the country. In fact, the latest government data has shown that £1.8bn was spent on TA across England in 2022-23.

Given the increasing levels of homelessness, you could be forgiven for thinking the government is throwing money at the problem, rather than working to properly resource councils to help prevent homelessness and to create affordable homes for individuals and families who need their homelessness relieved.

A key part of addressing the crisis is ensuring that councils have the means to carry out their basic legal duties. Beyond this, we also need greater investment to build truly affordable homes, a cross-departmental strategy that defines the government approach to ending homelessness, and inflation-proof spending commitments that protect the most vulnerable people in our society.

While £332m may sound like a significant amount of money to invest, it is a drop in the ocean in the context of current spending and when you think about how it could benefit society in the future. The sooner we identify young people facing homelessness and provide the right support, the sooner we can work towards ending youth homelessness for good.

Dr Tom Kerridge is policy and research manager at Centrepoint.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
My child was awarded disability benefits after five years of fighting. Why don't I feel victorious?
disability benefits/ mother and child
Cathy Reay

My child was awarded disability benefits after five years of fighting. Why don't I feel victorious?

Four million Brits struggle with problem debt. Now's the time for the next government to step up
debt
Vikki Brownridge

Four million Brits struggle with problem debt. Now's the time for the next government to step up

There's so many questions needing answers this general election it's hard to zone in on just one
Rishi Sunak calling a July 4 general election on May 22
Paul McNamee

There's so many questions needing answers this general election it's hard to zone in on just one

So little has changed since the Manchester Arena bombing. I worry terrorists have the upper hand
Cath Hill

So little has changed since the Manchester Arena bombing. I worry terrorists have the upper hand

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know