- 15 September 2017
- Posted in: Health & Social Care
For people living in major cities and towns across the UK, it has been hard not to notice the huge surge in rough sleepers in recent times. The number of homeless people has risen continuously for the last six years, since the Conservatives' welfare policies have come into full effect. That's an overall increase of 134%. The charity Shelter estimates that a quarter of a million people in Britain are currently homeless. London is worst affected by the problem with Brighton, Birmingham, Slough, Manchester, Reading, Luton, Coventry and Chelmsford following closely behind. Factors like rising rents and local authority cuts to housing support have contributed to more people being forced onto the streets.
The National Audit Office (NAO) published a report earlier this month, stating that the ending of private sector tenancies was the main cause of homelessness in England. It also said welfare cuts were a major contributing factor too. In addition to the problem of rough sleepers there has been a 60% increase in people living in temporary accommodation which includes 120,540 children across 77,000 families. It is often local, rather than national, governments dealing with the problem in a hands-on way. Of the £1.1bn councils spent on dealing with homelessness in 2015-2016, £845m of it went on temporary accommodation. The Local Government Association stated that councils were the ones "plugging the gap between rising rents and frozen housing benefits." The NAO report also found that councils were buying properties outside of London to house families.
Stating facts and figures can often lead us to forget that the problem is ultimately about people's welfare or lack thereof. Charities like Shelter, Centrepoint and Crisis have been working hard to provide care for those living on the streets. Centrepoint reported that in 2015, 150,000 young people approached them about homelessness issues. Charities also work to remove the stigma around homeless people.
In the North, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, elected last May, has promised to end rough sleeping by the end of his first term (3 years). He pledged to donate 15% of his £110,000 salary every year to a newly created homelessness fund intended to distribute money to frontline services through the Greater Manchester Homelessness Action Network. He has encouraged businesses and individuals alike to contribute to the fund. His announcement was critical of the government: "If you walk through the streets of Manchester, contrary to what the prime minister says you can see that this is not a country that is working for everybody right now."
The initiative further highlighted the paradox of having people sleeping on the streets yet also large empty buildings across the city. Burnham said: "My appeal goes out to the property sector and the business community more broadly to say, if you have got an empty building that could be used even temporarily for six months or a year then come forward and let us use it. It could potentially provide temporary shelter for people." Local charities in Manchester like the Booth Centre and The Mustard Tree also work to provide support for homeless people.
Following severe criticism and mounting pressure, the national government announced last January that it was investing £550million from now until 2020 to tackle the problem. Moreover, last May the Housing Reduction Act was passed but will likely not come into effect until next year. This act aims to tackle the root causes and get them the help they need early on to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.
There will be no easy solution for the sheer scale of homelessness in Britain. There are many deep-rooted problems behind this issue which need to be addressed before we can expect to see fewer rough sleepers in our communities. The public will have to wait for the Housing Reduction Act to come into effect and assess if it makes a difference. Despite the national government's overdue response to the issue, is it a positive sign that local governments, charities and communities have pulled together to try and alleviate the situation in the meantime.