A busy week in Parliament for homelessness
30.11.2017 845 XX
This week, two important Parliamentary Committees in Westminster heard evidence from Crisis on the drivers and impact of homelessness. Chief Executive, Jon Sparkes appeared before the influential and respected Public Accounts Committee (PAC), who were securitising how efficiently public money has been spent on preventing and tackling homelessness. Meanwhile, Matt Downie, Director of Policy and External Affairs, spoke to the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee inquiry session on the Homelessness Code of Guidance.
The PAC committee hearing was an inquiry into the National Audit Office (NAO) report on the cost of homelessness (which can be read here). The NAO report summary concluded that the majority of public money had been spent on ineffective crisis management of homelessness, such as temporary accommodation, rather than a focus on prevention, and this hadn’t represented good value for money for the taxpayer. It also surmised that the Government’s welfare reform policies were likely to have contributed to the rising level of homelessness, and were critical over a lack of cross-government strategy to prevent homelessness.
It was encouraging that two influential committees were looking at this issue on the same day, as well as having the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ending Homelessness examine the issue of homeless migrants who have No Recourse to Public Funds. However, as the NOA report seems to confirm, a cross government strategy to promote a more joined up approach could be effective in ensuing that policies pursued by one government department are not inadvertently causing homelessness to rise.
Responding to questions from the PAC Committee on the rise in homelessness, Jon outlined some of the key drivers, which included a lack of social housing, unsustainable rent costs, and recent changes to the welfare system. He also spoke about the devastating and isolating effects of homelessness on an individual.
Jon also said he was encouraged by the announcement in the recent Budget that £28 million would be invested in Housing First pilot schemes in Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands. However, he urged the Government to ensure the right infrastructure was in place at a local level, so learning from these pilots could be successfully implemented as quickly as possible. You can watch Jon’s contribution to the inquiry.
Matt’s session before the CLG Committee, considered the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act, and the draft Homelessness Code of Guidance, which gives the statutory guidance on how local authorities should exercise their homelessness functions, and apply the criteria in practice. Matt outlined Crisis' main concern regarding the Code of Guidance, which he said was written to the ‘letter of the law’ as opposed to the ‘spirit of the law’, and did not encourage the culture shift in local authorities needed for the legislation to achieve its intended aims.
Examples on where the Guidance could be strengthened, such as the lack of emphasis on referral pathways, and the section which outlines that a local authority could refer a case to another authority where the applicant had an ‘existing local connection’ once the 56-day period of prevention had passed. He argued that, should the action taken within the 56-day period have proved effective, it should be permitted to continue without the need for relocation. More generally, Matt said there needed to be a more compassionate approach from local authorities when dealing with homeless people. You can watch his evidence session.
It’s important that these Committees met to hear directly from us, and other sector colleagues, to learn the lessons on what is working, and perhaps even more crucially, what is not working with the government’s efforts to tackle homelessness. The evidence presented shows that, whilst there have been some welcome steps, such as the Homelessness Reduction Act, and the investment announced in the recent Budget, other government policies, such as welfare reform and decline in social housing and access to the private rented sector, have exacerbated the situation.
We hope the Government now takes the opportunity to use the vital evidence gathered by the Committees from sector leaders like us, who are at the frontline in tackling this issue, to work together in a co-ordinated and joined up approach that will achieved the shared ambition of ending homelessness once and for all.
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