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Don’t Look Back in Anger


By Paul Smith

With the hum (and maybe the glitter) of the party conferences in peoples ears, many are looking forward to the housing pledges in the forthcoming general election. 

Earlier this month I spoke at an international event about homelessness in England, my starting point was the Conservative Party manifesto from 2019. In that election the Tories made a bold pledge. It wasn’t just ‘Get Brexit done’ but also to end street homelessness:

“We will also end the blight of rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament by expanding successful pilots and programmes such as the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First, and working to bring together local services to meet the health and housing needs of people sleeping on the streets.”

So how is that going? I’ve written here before about Housing First but there is little sign that it has become ubiquitous. The Government made a good start on ending street homelessness when it launched the ‘Everyone In’ initiative in March 2020 as a response to COVID. Councils mobilised the homelessness ecosystem to get people out of streets and night shelters mainly into the hotels which had been vacated due to the pandemic lockdowns. The Government estimated that 37,000 people were helped through this programme (itself interesting as the previous October’s homelessness count was 4,266). This was a phenomenal effort and was declared at the time as a fantastic platform for the Government achieving its manifesto pledge. The Government claimed that 26,000 people moved on into long term accommodation, including its own £160m Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme which provided funding for new homes to be built or purchased by housing associations. The Government claim was challenged by Shelter research which only showed 8,600 people had accessed the minimum of 6 months housing which is used to measure success.

The impact of this support was reflected in October 2021 (the annual count is always in the autumn) which showed a significant drop to 2688 people on the streets. This reduction further indicated that the Government was making progress on its promise. However, once the pandemic was over, eviction bans were ended, and homelessness dropped off the national agenda the figures started to rise again. The 2022 count showed a rise to 3,069 (almost double the number, 1,768 when the coalition was elected in 2010). There is little optimism that this autumn’s figure will show a drop. 

As we are one year out from the ‘end of the parliament’ there is no sign of the manifesto commitment being met. I’ve not seen a single mention of homelessness or of this target at the Conservative Party conference. When the housing minister was questioned by Inside Housing magazine about homelessness earlier this year, she responded that she was the housing minister and homelessness came under another minister’s brief.

The focus of this Government on street homelessness has ebbed away, despite a good start the situation is visibly worsening. Let’s hope the next Government can do better and we can get everyone in for good.

October 18 2023

Don’t Look Back in Anger