Lessons from Kerslake can help councils avoid surge in homelessness

As we approach World Homeless Day, Exec Director John Glenton reflects on how the recently published Kerslake Commission report into rough sleeping offers the Government a ready-made blueprint to end homelessness. 

On the eve of World Homeless Day, as we approach the winter, the pressures on those at risk of homelessness are increasing.

In July of this year, the founder of The Big Issue, Lord John Bird, said: “More people are at risk of homelessness now than at any time in living memory.”

Since then, Conservative peer, John Barwell, has acknowledged the increasing strain on families in the UK. He recently conceded: “We’ve got the tax increases that they’ve (UK Government) just brought in, we’ve got the Universal Credit reduction, plus rising energy bills … I think there is a real political danger here of cost-of-living issues becoming a real difficulty for the government.”

Prior to Lord Bird’s warning in 2019/20, a total of 288,470 households were owed homelessness prevention or relief duty by a local authority – the equivalent of England’s councils dealing with a city the size of Sheffield becoming homeless every year.

The publication of the final Kerslake report on rough sleeping two weeks ago has underlined the importance of acting quickly to ensure the benefits and lessons learned from the joint working during the pandemic will not be wasted, and the number of people having to sleep on the streets will not rise again this winter.

Everyone In has shown what can be achieved when all partners work together towards a singular shared goal. Whilst the intervention helped many move on into more suitable accommodation (over 37,000) during the pandemic, this does not mean an end to rough sleeping.

Evidence from the Kerslake Commission suggests that, without appropriate preventative measures in place, the removal of temporary measures (such as £20 Universal Credit uplift and change to the Local Housing Allowance) means the finances of families will get worse, and homelessness and rough sleeping will ‘surge’.

The rough sleeping strategy and Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI) funding has achieved some excellent results and is an exemplar for policy in action. In its first year RSI funding helped to cut the number of people sleeping on the streets by almost a quarter (23%) in areas which received additional funding, while areas receiving no extra money saw a 41% increase.

One of the central asks identified in the Kerslake report is that Everyone In should continue to be financed by RSI and should have a focus on rough sleeping prevention, outreach, accommodation and support and should pay for an increased supply of self-contained and quality emergency accommodation.

This approach would provide a safety net for those providing invaluable homelessness support services across the UK.

As we look forward, now furlough has ended and the financial pressure on households grows, it is clear that we need to do more to tackle homelessness before it happens.

On the eve of the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget, we want to see government reinstate the £1.6bn ring-fenced budget for housing-related support. Homeless Link, similarly, called in their 2020 Comprehensive Spending Review submission for government to invest an extra £1bn a year in services which prevent and end homelessness until 2024.

A long-term approach to tackling homelessness is essential.

This approach should include a cross-departmental National Homelessness Strategy by March 2023, led by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, but also involving the Department of Health and Social Care, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions and Office for Veterans’ Affairs, with co-ordination from the Cabinet Office.

As part of this far-sighted approach Kerslake recommends that councils should be expected to produce long-term, integrated homelessness and health strategies and rapid rehousing plans. These plans will require a local assessment of homelessness need which would aim to quantify the level of central funding needed for each area.

Kerslake also recommends that local authorities, in partnership with homelessness organisations, should conduct long-term strategic planning for extremes in weather, including both extreme cold and severe heat.

A central theme of the strategy must be partnership working across central, regional and local government and its various delivery agencies. This includes measures to prevent homelessness alongside varied homelessness services such as Housing First, floating support and accommodation-based services.

We strongly believe that a national housing and homeless strategy should be at the very top of the Government’s agenda.

To be effective this strategy must direct resources towards building more social housing and preventing homelessness.