Opinion

Four things the next government can and must do to end homelessness once and for all

As the UK heads towards a general election, Homeless Link CEO Rick Henderson looks at what the next government must do to get a grip on rising homelessness

Sharon and Billy have experienced homelessness

Sharon and her son Billy experienced homelessness for the first time after being forced out of their home following an assault. For several weeks, they had to move around from hostel to hostel until being placed where they are now. They are on the waiting list for social housing. Image: Centre for Homelessness Impact/Liam McBurney/PA

As CEO at Homeless Link, I spend a large chunk of my professional life travelling up and down the country visiting homelessness services. Over the last few years, I have been in complete awe of their resilience; from the gargantuan effort to get ‘Everyone In’ during the pandemic, to continuing to support people in the face of spiralling inflation.

But the reality now is 156,190 households in England were owed a homelessness relief duty by their local authority in 2022/23, a 28% increase over the last five years. Meanwhile, rough sleeping rose by 26% in 2022, the biggest year-on-year percentage rise since 2015.

The trauma of homelessness disrupts almost all aspects of a person’s life, while placing significant strain on health and social care services.

The next government can and must act to change this.

Homeless Link’s manifesto to end homelessness is drawn from our unique position as the membership body for over 800 homelessness organisations across England. It builds on work with our members, engagement with specialists and experts and on the rich body of evidence on what works to end homelessness. This diversity of voices involved has allowed us to hear both the immediate needs of a sector in crisis, and the long-term ambitions to end homelessness altogether, which we have distilled into four key ambitions for the next government.

Everyone has a safe, secure home in which to thrive

It’s no secret that there’s a significant shortage of safe and affordable homes for people who need them. Ensuring people on low incomes have access to truly affordable housing is the single biggest step we can take to preventing homelessness, both now and in the future.

To achieve this the next government must look to both the long and the short-term. Committing to building 90,000 social homes per year over the next decade will help build a society where good quality, affordable homes are available to all.

Meanwhile, raising the local housing allowance rate will allow people on low incomes to find affordable properties in the private rented sector.

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Every arm of government working together and playing their part

Homelessness is often about much more than just housing. Experiences of trauma throughout people’s lives can lead to a network of interconnected support needs which leave people at much higher risk of losing their homes.

Preventing and ending homelessness cannot therefore be the responsibility of just one government department. Indeed, in recent times we have seen repeatedly how contradicting policies from different departments serve to further embed and increase homelessness. The next government should therefore adopt a cross-government strategy to end homelessness, led by a new task force directed by Cabinet Office.

A homelessness system that works for all

The identities and needs of people experiencing homelessness are incredibly diverse. We know that if personalised, trauma informed care is embedded as standard, we can find the solutions to ensure no one is left behind. Despite this, the current system pushes homelessness providers towards one-size-fits-all approaches, with access to specialist support often based more on where you live rather than what you need.

The diversity of need within the homelessness sector requires an ecosystem of services working together. Day centres, emergency accommodation and supported accommodation each play a crucial role, with trauma informed care at the heart of this. Ensuring commissioning and funding structures can deliver a diverse network of services is therefore vital.

Sustained investment in preventing and ending homelessness

Since 2010, Homeless Link’s research found that the number of accommodation services for people experiencing homelessness has fallen by 38%. At the same time, rough sleeping has risen dramatically. This is a result of a funding system propped up by short-term contracts and grants alongside major reductions in government spending.

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But investing in homelessness support makes economic as well as moral sense. Research from PwC shows that every £1 invested in ending homelessness generates an estimated £2.80 in wider savings and benefits across departments.

Replacing the existing homelessness funding structure with a single ring-fenced homelessness support fund will give the sector the stability it needs to in turn provide stability and support to people experiencing homelessness, saving public money in the long-term.

Rick Henderson is the CEO of Homeless Link, the membership body for frontline homelessness services in England

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