The Rough Sleeping Strategy is a positive step forward, but we need to tackle the root causes of homelessness

Earlier this week, the Government published its Rough Sleeping Strategy, which commits to spending £100m over the next two years to tackle rough sleeping. The strategy is being delivered as part of the Government’s commitment to ending rough sleeping by 2027. The funding consists of £50m already allocated to rough sleeping and £50m reprioritised from other departmental budgets.

Rough sleeping has been rising since 2010 and the most recent Government statistics estimate that round 4,750 people sleep rough in any one night across the UK. In London, CHAIN statistics showed that over the course of 2017/18, 7,484 people slept rough on the capital’s streets.

The new strategy focuses on prevention, intervention and recovery. We are pleased to see funding for pilots to help people leaving prison find stable and sustainable accommodation, as well as new funding for intensive support for care leavers with complex needs. Both prison leavers and care leavers were identified by the APPG as two cohorts at particular risk of homelessness, but for whom homelessness should be easily preventable, in the APPG Year 1 report on prevention.

In addition, investment in mental health services, training for frontline staff to help those under the influence of spice, new funding for non-UK nationals who sleep rough and funding for outreach teams, should help provide much needed relief for those who find themselves sleeping rough.

However, whilst we welcome the strategy as a positive step forward, we need the Government to go further with a cross-government strategy, led by Number 10, to prevent and tackle all forms of homelessness.

This must look at how to tackle the root causes of homelessness, including investing in social housing; ensuring that the welfare budget, which has seen cuts in funding since 2010, covers the cost of housing; and investment in sustained support for addressing mental health problems and substance abuse.

Furthermore, there are groups who are currently excluded from the system altogether. Migrants with no recourse to public funds who are not considered vulnerable are ineligible for any support and left reliant on family and friends for support, or support from the voluntary sector and local faith groups. In 2016/17, 53% of people seen sleeping rough in London were from outside the UK.

Whilst new funding for non-UK nationals sleeping rough is a step forward, the Government must go much further to tackle migrant homelessness and prevent migrants from becoming homeless in the first place. There are many complex reasons and inter-related issues that result in people from outside the UK becoming homeless, which make it more difficult to resolve their homelessness. These can include difficulties resolving their immigration status, vulnerability to exploitation forcing them underground and barriers to accessing support. Errors and poor access to legal advice, alongside social isolation and a lack of access to support, have resulted in many people who could have their immigration status regularised facing ongoing destitution and homelessness.

We are calling on the Government to scrap the no recourse to public funds condition for victims of domestic violence, care leavers and any person applying for leave to remain under the family/private life rules when they have a dependent child. Civil legal aid for immigration cases should also be reinstated to ensure all migrants have access to justice.

The strategy is a welcome step towards tackling rough sleeping in the UK. However, to ensure everyone in the UK has a safe place to call home, we need bolder, bigger commitments that tackle the root causes of homelessness.

Neil Coyle MP and Will Quince MP (Co-Chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness)

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