Conservative and Labour Mayors unite in call for “reset” of homelessness policy in the wake of the pandemic
Andy Burnham and Andy Street back Crisis’ call for emergency homelessness legislation to provide safe accommodation to all throughout the pandemic
The mayors of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, Andy Burnham and Andy Street, have recorded a joint interview with national homelessness charity Crisis on the unprecedented effort to protect people who are homeless during the pandemic.
Reflecting on their experience as local leaders in their own regions, the mayors agreed that the outbreak should be a watershed moment for homelessness and housing policy.
Street said the pandemic has generated “citizen will” to make a change, adding “we did something we can be proud of in adversity” and called for the country “not to slip back”, while Burnham said it should be a “reset moment.”
Burnham, the Labour mayor for Greater Manchester, and Street, the Conservative mayor for the West Midlands, both support Crisis’ call for emergency homelessness legislation, guaranteeing all those experiencing homelessness with temporary accommodation over the next twelve months, regardless of their immigration status and other legal barriers.
The legislation would also strengthen welfare provisions and protect renters from eviction if they struggle to pay rent because of the financial impact of the outbreak.
The two mayors spoke of local authorities, charities and community groups pulling together in an incredible effort to move hundreds of people off the streets and into emergency accommodation at the start of lockdown, as part of the government’s “Everyone In” initiative. Crisis is now calling for this momentum to be sustained and for people newly facing homelessness as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic to be protected.
The British public, Street said, had been able to “reflect on what’s happened over Covid and think: some things just aren’t right. And pervasive rough sleeping just is not right.” He called on the government to ensure this year’s funding pledges for local authorities are delivered without delay. “That money has got to flow quickly because there is a real task to be done on the ground right now,” he said, highlighting the need to get people who had been sleeping rough out of temporary settings like hotels and into “move-on” accommodation, along with the need to provide support services to help people get back on their feet.
Burnham added: “A country like ours should put a roof over every head every night of the week – it’s as simple as that. We shouldn’t accept rough sleeping in our country.”
In the West Midlands about 800 people had been moved into safe accommodation during the pandemic, Street said. Burnham said that in Greater Manchester close to 2,000 people had been supported.
Burnham said lives had been “turned around” but questioned why it should take a crisis to do the right thing, saying: “Surely if we can do this in the middle of a pandemic, we can do it in more ordinary times.”
Burnham also commented on the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) policy that, pre-coronavirus, prevented many people who are homeless from accessing support, saying “’Everyone In’ has got to mean everyone in.” NRPF was “incompatible” with the goal of ending rough sleeping for good, he said, adding: “That policy says there will always be some people out on the streets.”
Burnham and Street agreed that long-term reform of the local housing allowance (LHA) benefit was needed, building on the emergency changes seen during the pandemic.
Street said that pre-pandemic the LHA rate meant people could afford just “2% of rental accommodation in Birmingham.” “That is just not doing its job,” he added. During the pandemic, LHA has been increased to 30%. “It has got to be sustained at that sort of level,” Street said.
Both mayors strongly support the Housing First model, which places emphasis on the long-term provision of a stable home, accompanied by tailored support with issues like mental health or substance dependency. They are backing Crisis in calling for this to be rolled out nationally following successful pilots, including in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.
“Housing First as a project needs to become a philosophy that underpins our whole approach to not just homelessness, but to society. I don’t think anybody in this life has got health and wellbeing without good housing behind them,” said Burnham.
Both mayors have visited Finland to witness how the widespread adoption of Housing First is eliminating long-term homelessness in the country.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “Andy Street and Andy Burnham, like so many local authority leaders and their teams, have worked flat out to help people off the streets and ensure they are protected during the pandemic. We know that when given a place to temporarily call their own, many people have been able to thrive, receiving the support they need and getting closer to ending their homelessness for good.
“We’re delighted to have their backing for our Home For All campaign and the emergency homelessness legislation we’ve proposed to Government. With so many people already experiencing homelessness, and the economic pressure of the pandemic sure to push many more to the brink, it’s essential to protect people from destitution in this ongoing public health crisis.
“People sleeping rough and living on our streets was part of the “old normal”. It doesn’t have to be part of our “new normal.”
Links to videos of mayors Andy Burnham and Andy Street, interviewed by Crisis’ Head of Policy and Campaigns, Hannah Gousy:
Crisis is the national charity for homeless people. We help people directly out of homelessness, and campaign for the social changes needed to solve it altogether. We know that together we can end homelessness.