Opinion

Jeremy Hunt's decision to ignore homelessness emergency in Spring Budget is dangerous

Just days after government figures laid bare the scale of the homelessness crisis, the chancellor failed to safeguard homelessness services and set the ground for the issue to ‘spiral out of control’, says Homeless Link chief executive Rick Henderson

homelessness

Devastating rough sleeping and temporary accommodation statistics released last week showed the scale of the homelessness crisis but no fiscal measures to deal with it made it into the Spring Budget. Image: Franco Folini / Flickr

The chancellor’s decision not to use today’s Budget to answer frontline experts’ repeated calls to safeguard invaluable homelessness services is, quite frankly, dangerous.

And that it comes only days after the annual rough sleeping snapshot and latest temporary accommodation figures issued the starkest of warnings on the severity of this country’s homelessness emergency is astounding.

The government’s statistics revealed that close to 4,000 people had been forced to sleep rough on a single night in Autumn 2023, with increases seen across England. This is a 27% rise on the previous year – the biggest annual jump since 2015 – and is more than double the number of people estimated to have been sleeping rough in 2010, when records began.

Homeless Link CEO Rick Henderson writing on the Spring Budget
“As government inaction caused this crisis, it is in the power of the government to act to end homelessness,” said Rick Henderson. Image: Homeless Link

Sleeping rough is a deeply traumatic experience that severely impacts people’s mental and physical health. If a healthy society is judged by how it supports its most vulnerable citizens, then the latest statistics, which are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to homelessness, are truly shameful.

The appalling numbers are being driven by a range of long-term factors that are combining to push people into homelessness, including a critical shortage of affordable homes and a private rented sector that is sorely in need of reform, a punitive welfare system and limited access to mental health support.

For almost two years, since the end of the pandemic response, homelessness charities – our members – have been reporting significant increases in demand for their services. They’ve seen young people queuing at their doors in wet sleeping bags, a rise in people experiencing homelessness for the first time and, notably, a disproportionate number of newly recognised refugees.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We saw from Everyone In that the right investment and will can dramatically reduce the numbers of people sleeping on our streets. But tragically, we’ve since regressed at an alarming rate.

At the same time – a time when they are needed more than ever – vital homelessness services are struggling to stay afloat, teetering on the edge of a financial abyss. This is a crisis that has been building as the government failed to adequately heed charities’ repeated calls for action.

A recent Homeless Link poll of 120 homelessness services found that 66% of accommodation providers have services that are no longer financially viable due to lack of inflationary increases in commissioned and grant funded projects and 36% have already reduced their services to meet financial pressures.

And today, yet another opportunity has been missed. The chancellor chose not to use the Budget to safeguard essential homelessness support with the desperately needed backdated inflationary uplift to funding.

The 2p National Insurance cut will do nothing to help the thousands of people who are rough sleeping and while public spending is planned to rise by 1% overall, experience tells us that this is likely to mean significant cuts to unprotected budgets like local government, housing and homelessness.

The short extension of the household support fund offers a scrap of hope. But without adequate and sustainable funding to meet demand for homelessness support, which provides a literal lifeline for people being pushed into homelessness, we are likely to see rough sleeping spiral further out of control.

However, as government inaction caused this crisis, it is in the power of the government to act to end homelessness. A focus on prevention must be an essential element of a new approach, addressing the root causes of homelessness and preventing government departments from working in silos to create policies which widen the cracks people can fall through.

With the general election on the horizon, Homeless Link is calling on all political parties to commit to building a society with A Home for Everyone, giving people the foundation they need to thrive. Action in four areas will achieve this.

Firstly, and fundamentally, everyone needs a safe, secure, suitable home. Ensuring people on low incomes have access to truly affordable housing is the single biggest step we can take to prevent homelessness. To achieve this, we are asking the government to build 90,000 social homes per year over the next decade and index link local housing allowance, restoring it to a level that will cover the lowest third of market rents.

Secondly, we are clear that preventing and ending homelessness cannot be the responsibility of just one government department. A joint approach with a cross-government strategy is necessary to ensure that all departments’ policies and programmes work consistently and holistically to end homelessness.

Thirdly, experience from our members shows us that solutions to homelessness are never one-size-fits-all. We need diverse services and sustainable housing options that are accessible for every person experiencing homelessness, with personalised, trauma-informed care embedded as standard.

And finally, sustainable investment will be key, preventing people from losing their homes and ensuring services have the resources they need to provide effective and efficient support. Specifically, we would like to see a long-term, ring-fenced homelessness support fund, designed to adapt to local and individual needs.

It pains me to say that our homelessness support system is now fighting for survival against a backdrop of rocketing homelessness. But all is not lost. The government can choose to step back and take a new path that will transform this country into one fully equipped to prevent and end homelessness.

Rick Henderson is the chief executive of Homeless Link, the national membership charity for homelessness and supported housing services.

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