Homelessness

It is deeply concerning that homelessness and rough sleeping have both risen sharply since 2010.  While homelessness fell by 62% under the previous Labour government (1998 to 2010), the number of families accepted as homeless has risen by a third since 2010, and recorded rough sleeping has doubled in the last six years and has risen by 30% in the last year alone.

Housing failure over the last six years has caused worry and misery for millions of people now struggling with the cost of the housing crisis and facing higher rents, more homelessness, the lowest rate of home ownership in a generation, and fewer homes built than at any time since the 1920s. The rise in homelessness can be traced directly to decisions taken by the Government which have led to big cuts in housing benefit support, cuts to funding for homelessness support services; and soaring private rents and the loss of affordable homes, with over 150,000 fewer council homes than in 2010. I am concerned that the Government's cuts in funding to supported housing providers, including homeless shelters, will add to homelessness if specialist housing, sheltered accommodation, refuges, and homeless hostels are forced to close.

By contrast, the Welsh Government has recently introduced a Housing Act with a new focus on early action to prevent homelessness. People living in Wales who find themselves at risk of homelessness receive assistance before they actually lose their home and thereby avoid the distressing experience of eviction and homelessness. Welsh local authorities have a legal duty to provide a "person-centred approach" through the use of Personal Housing Plans, which are developed in consultation with anyone at risk of homelessness.

The spiralling scale of homelessness shames us all when Britain is one of the richest countries in the world.  The UK Government should follow the example set by the Welsh Government and urgently tackle the root causes of homelessness in England, in particular evictions from the private rented sector and the availability of housing, which are among the key drivers of homelessness.

In the March 2016 Budget, the then Chancellor pledged £115 million to help homelessness. However, this is not new money and I am concerned it will do very little to recover the funding that the Government is set to strip from homelessness hostels and other specialist housing. Indeed, the National Audit Office has found that funding for homelessness services was cut by 45% between 2010 and 2015.

I am aware that charities such as St Mungo's and Crisis are calling for reform to the law on homelessness in England in order to focus more on intervening early and on preventing homelessness. The Government has stated that it will explore options, including legislation, to prevent more people from facing homelessness in the first place. However, the Government failed to include legislation on this in the Queen's Speech in May 2016.

As you may be aware, in August 2016, the House of Commons' Communities and Local Government Select Committee published a report which recommends a cross-Departmental Government Strategy on homelessness. The committee has also called on the Government to support the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which, as you may know, is a Private Members' Bill. I intend to be in the House of Commons to support the Bill when it has its Second Reading on 28 October 2016.

The Government urgently needs a clear plan to help those currently homeless and to address the root causes of homelessness. A failure to do so would betray some of our society's most vulnerable people.

Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central

 

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