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July 6, 2022

Addressing the evidence gap in using social investment to tackle homelessness

By Chris Fox

New solutions to addressing homelessness have never been more important. Ending rough-sleeping in England by the end of this parliament remains a UK government commitment, but the challenge is likely to get tougher during the current cost of living crisis. Social investment could be one solution.

The use of social investment to address issues around homelessness is not new. Over the last ten years a number of Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) have targeted homelessness including in London and The GM Homes Partnership in Greater Manchester. The London Homelessness SIB significantly reduced rough sleeping over a two year period. The GM Homes Partnership housed almost twice as many people as originally targeted at half the cost of similar interventions funded in other ways. In a recent report Big Society Capital set out the success of this and other rough sleeping SIBs.

The focus of homelessness SIBs is primarily on service delivery. SIBs themselves represent an important, but very small part of the social investment market. What might the potential role of social investment be in making more housing available? As documented by Big Society Capital, in recent years, the social housing sector has seen the entrance and rise of private equity-funding models including the launch of affordable housing investment funds. But not all will necessarily be underpinned by social purpose. Big Society Capital call for an impact investing approach where there’s a strong focus on positive measurable social and environmental impact, alongside financial returns. They estimate that the value of all social investment in the UK was worth £6.4 billion at the end of 2020 and that social property funds accounted for 45% of these investments. However, despite this huge increase in investment there is remarkably little evidence of the effectiveness of this approach. We know relatively little about the impact of social investment on local social housing providers, whether such investment changes local social housing eco-systems, the relative value for money of this approach and, importantly, how it is experienced by people who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness. 

The Everyone In Social Investment Pilot will help to address this evidence gap. The Pilot was launched as a follow-on to the Everyone In initiative launched by the government in March 2020 as the Covid pandemic took hold and lock-downs became inevitable. It is piloting a social investment approach to homelessness and is a partnership between Big Society Capital, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, Communities, Bridges Fund Management, Resonance and Social and Sustainable Capital (SASC). DLUHC has provided a grant of £15 million and the social investor Big Society Capital has matched this grant with £15 million of its own funding. The Pilot will fund the purchase of existing housing from the property market in partnership with local not-for-profit organisations and make them available at Local Housing Allowance rent levels to ensure they remain affordable. 

I am leading the evaluation of the Pilot with a team which draws on expertise from Manchester Metropolitan University, the Centre for Homelessness Impact, UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, the Institute of Social Policy, Housing and Equalities Research (I-SPHERE), People’s Voice Media and the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation at the University of Southern California. We started the evaluation with a Feasibility Study and will be followed by a three-year evaluation that will start in Autumn 2022 to assess the effectiveness of this Pilot. Some elements of the main study are dependent on the outcome of the Feasibility Study, but key elements will include a process and impact evaluation and an economic evaluation. During the evaluation we will train and support some of the people who access the accommodation to tell their stories and these stories will form an important strand of the impact evaluation. We also hope to tailor the evaluation to the needs of local housing organisations that have participated in the pilot and deliver local evaluation reports that support their ongoing work.

Find out more about the project.

Chris Fox is Professor of Evaluation and Policy Analysis and Director, Policy Evaluation & Research Unit at Manchester Metropolitan University

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