A plan to end homelessnessPosted: June 11, 2018
Originally published on June 12 on my blog for Inside Housing.
At times in the last year it’s seemed that all a politician has to do to end homelessness is say ‘Housing First’ three times, take a trip to Finland and announce a new initiative.
All three do feature in the plan published by Crisis this morning but alongside a 10-year strategy that challenges the politicians to take a harder road to a real destination – if they choose.
Everybody In: How to end homelessness in Great Britain was developed following an international evidence review of what works here and abroad, a consultation with over 1,000 people across Britain and newly-commissioned research to fill gaps in the evidence.
Crisis, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, warns that there are currently 160,000 people facing the worst forms of homelessness in Britain but that if we continue as we are this number will double over the next 25 years.
‘Ending homelessness’ in this context does not mean that nobody will lose their home again but how we ensure that no one sleeps rough, everyone has a safe, stable place to live (and nobody is in emergency accommodation like a hostel without a plan to move them quickly into housing) and that where we can predict homelessness we can prevent it (so that nobody if forced to leave their home or a state institution or prison with nowhere to go).
If all of that sounds expensive, PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimates the total costs between 2018 and 2041 at £19.3bn – but that it will deliver benefits of £53.9bn.
Housing First is high up the list of recommendations and it should be made the default option for anyone homeless with complex needs, says the report.
That would be backed by wider reforms of the homelessness legislation, including the abolition of priority need in England and Wales, a duty on Scottish councils to prevent homelessness.
They should also ensure that lack of a local connection is not a barrier to getting help, robust monitoring of how key organisations support people facing homelessness and funding for local authorities to provide a mandatory set of prevention activities including support for people to keep their tenancies.
However, anyone who has heard conference presentations on what they did to prevent homelessness in Finland will know that that its pioneering Housing First approach was underpinned by serious investment in permanent housing t
Crisis says we need 100,500 homes for social rent each year for the next 15 years to meet the needs of homeless people and people on low incomes.
Of those 91,000 are needed in England, 4,000 in Wales and 5,000 in Scotland – and that’s within overall provision of 383,000 new homes a year (343,000 in England).
That is on top of time limiting the use of unsuitable temporary accommodation and funding of Critical Time Interventions, a housing-led approach that helps people who are vulnerable to homelessness during periods of transition.
But to back all of that up we also need housing benefit that ‘truly covers the cost of housing’, plus a new standard private tenancy in England and Wales with limits on annual rent increases plus specialist integrated employment and housing support for homeless people.
The report comes with some impressive UK and international endorsements – for example, Juha Kaakinnen of Finland’s Y-Foundation says it could have ‘the same revolutionary impact as the Beveridge report – and includes a wealth of case studies that put a human face on the problems it diagnoses.
But it is also a detailed plan with far more detail that I can go into here about definitions of ‘homelessness’ and what ‘ending’ it means, tackling rough sleeping and improving the welfare safety net and how prevention, rapid rehousing and Housing First can work.
Each has practical examples and recommendations for what needs to change in England, Scotland and Wales.
Amid all this positivity, perhaps the cynicism in my introduction was a bit overdone.
After all, the homelessness legislation has been improved recently in England, Scotland and Wales and there are tentative signs of a virtuous circle of learning across the different nations (with England borrowing from the Welsh approach to prevention and a live debate in Wales right now about Scotland’s abolition of priority need).
However, the plan is nothing if not ambitious and that applies even to the legislative framework.
It measures the current English, Welsh and Scottish approaches against 10 different criteria for a ‘perfect homeless system’ and there are only two areas of complete compliance: Wales for prevention; and Scotland for entitlement to housing support.
The cost estimates by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (of which £9.9bn would be incurred in the next ten years) apply to specific interventions in the plan such as Housing First, supported accommodation, floating support, emergency accommodation and Critical Time Interventions.
The benefits (of which £26.4 billion would come in the next ten years) are from reduced costs of homelessness to local authorities and other public services, increased earnings as more people are able to work and improved wellbeing as homeless people are able to get secure homes.
However, the costings do not include costly associated policy recommendations such as restoring the link between the Local Housing Allowance and market rates and increasing it back to the 30th percentile and increasing the supply of social housing.
And this at a time when in England things are still going backwards on issues like replacements for homes sold under the Right to Buy.
If all of that sounds a tall order, this plan comes with detailed priorities for the Westminster, Scottish and Welsh Governments that should leave no room for doubt about what politicians who say they want to ‘end homelessness’ need to do to back that up.
As Crisis concludes: ‘This plan is written in good faith as a tool for all those interested in tackling homelessness, and created in the certain knowledge that together we can end it.’