We can harness the intent shown in recent weeks and use it to provide permanent accommodation for anyone sleeping rough.
Last weekend it was reported that the Government plans to stop funding the ‘Everyone In’ scheme providing emergency accommodation for rough sleepers during the pandemic.
This urgent measure was designed to ensure as effective a lockdown as possible to tackle the spread of the coronavirus.
The scheme has helped house around 4,500 people in England but this vulnerable group now faces being shoved back on the streets.
When Everyone In was launched, local authorities largely acted swiftly.
My own council in Southwark showed leadership in providing accommodation for 300 rough sleepers within days – a third of all those housed across London.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham provided over 1,500 placements but, as he has outlined in his letter to the Government, local authorities are now being told to ‘draw a line’ under the policy and there appears to be a gap between what councils are paying and what the Government will refund.
Rough sleeping has risen annually since Labour left office in 2010.
Under Tory measures – with the Lib Dems in Coalition – councils were forbidden to help many of the people recently housed. Home Office rules prevented councils helping people under hostile environment conditions like ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF), which denies housing benefit to people who have often lived and worked in the UK for decades.
I’ve seen many people affected in my local advice surgeries, often with their British born children.
Ministers instructed councils to house everyone under Everyone In, but it has become apparent that the Government did not take into account people subject to NRPF conditions.
Ministers seem oblivious to the impact of Home Office policies on the growth of rough sleeping.
In Southwark some 60% of the rough sleepers being housed are subject to NRPF. Government confusion has been unhelpful but the Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health at the DWP, Justin Tomlinson MP, told me he thought these costs would be covered when pressed in select committee.
Universal Credit (UC) was also a factor in rising homelessness.
I have seen people made homeless as a result of UC, including people in work denied help under this failing and discredited policy.
Other causes of the growth in rough sleeping include: a decade of cuts to council budgets; the axing of mental health services; the decimation of drug and alcohol cessation support; and cuts to benefits for disabled people.
The Government previously committed to end rough sleeping by 2024 but was decades off course and did not even measure the problem properly.
After years of lacking effort and contributing to the problem, the global pandemic caused the Government to finally find the political will to tackle the issue.
Ministers must now commit to two measures.
Firstly, councils must not foot the bill for providing accommodation. The Government must honour its promise and not leave local authorities even worse off.
Secondly, Ministers must ensure that rough sleeping does not return. This can be done by adopting a ‘housing first’ approach, coupled with fixing Universal Credit problems like the five week delay for any help, as well as scrapping Home Office measures which leave people destitute.
We do not need to wait until 2024, if we can harness the intent shown in recent weeks and use it to provide permanent accommodation for anyone sleeping rough.
The political will the Government found in spring seems to be wavering as we approach the summer.
It must not become a political won’t again.