January 19, 2024
Dr Lígia Teixeira
The issue of rough sleeping in England has long been a cause for concern, prompting the UK Government to implement a comprehensive Rough Sleeping Strategy. Recently, members of its Advisory Panel conducted a review of the strategy, focusing on its key pillars: prevention, intervention, recovery and transparency.
I had the honour of being invited to co-chair the transparency group. The first thing to say is that the strategy itself is good: it is evidence-based and with a strong commitment to a ‘what works’ approach, with bold goals that are backed by a long list of measurable key performance indicators. You don’t need to go very far afield to realise how uncommon that is. Though led by DLUHC, it was done and signed by eight ministers, including from DWP, DHSC, and the Home Office – because they know that a whole government approach is needed if we are to end rough sleeping, and indeed other forms of homelessness, for good.
Today the three papers that emerged from the exercise were published in the LGA website, taking my mind back to what we found. There was a lot of consensus and evidence suggesting that good progress was made on a number of fronts against the key performance indicators set in the strategy. This is no small feat given the times we’ve been living through…
But we couldn’t shy away from the fact that despite this, rough sleeping figures in many parts of the country have been moving in the wrong direction since we’ve come over the other side of the pandemic.
The progress assessment identified challenges that cut across the pillars of the strategy. One such challenge is the impact of welfare, specifically Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates. Insufficient LHA rates can make it difficult for individuals to afford housing in high pressure areas, increasing the risk of homelessness. Addressing this challenge requires a comprehensive approach that combines longer term welfare reform with affordable housing solutions. But it’s nevertheless positive that, since the review took place, it was announced that rates will be unfrozen in April.
Migration trends and policies also emerged as a noteworthy challenge, requiring a nuanced approach to address the diverse needs of a changing population.
Many members of the panel pointed out that efforts across government are not consistent - DLUHC’s efforts are widely perceived to be much more effective than those than other government departments – or perhaps more worrying always pulled in the same direction e.g. it is sadly not uncommon for the policies of a government department to undo the good work done by DLUHC.
The main takeaway from the review emphasises that the focus on the four pillars and strategic investments are more important than ever. Recognising that homelessness is a complex issue requiring sustained attention and resources, Advisory Panel members stressed the need for continued commitment to these efforts.
For me, the exercise also highlighted the importance of a whole-government approach. To effectively tackle rough sleeping, a system-level approach that involves increased join-up across government departments is vital. My hope is that the Systems-Level evaluation that is now underway will aid efforts in this space. By fostering collaboration and coordination among different departments, we can address the underlying causes of rough sleeping and homelessness holistically and perhaps even more importantly stop one part of government undoing another part's good works.
To enhance the effectiveness of the strategy, there should be a focus on improving data sharing and improving monitoring systems. This will enable better tracking of progress, identification of emerging trends including transition points where things are not working, and costs. The development and implementation of the new Ending Rough Sleeping Framework showed what can be achieved in very little time if the right conditions are present. And provides a great foundation to build on in this respect.
In particular because this will be critical if we are to further enhance our support services and pathways, targeting our responses even more depending on who people are and what their goals and ambitions are. It can also help improve our prevention efforts – by focusing on preventing rough sleeping before it occurs and intervening at the earliest stages, we can reduce the number of individuals experiencing it.
In conclusion, the recent review of England's Rough Sleeping Strategy offers valuable insights into the multifaceted challenges of homelessness. While progress has been made, the focus on prevention, intervention, and recovery, coupled with strategic data and rigorous evaluation investments, remains paramount. The outputs from the progress assessment call for a collective commitment to address issues such as the weaknesses in our social security and the asylum systems, ensuring that the Rough Sleeping Strategy evolves to meet the dynamic needs of those experiencing rough sleeping in England.
Renewed efforts and a system-level approach are vital to address the increasing numbers of people sleeping rough since the pandemic. By acknowledging the challenges and focusing on collaboration, data-driven decision-making, prevention, and enhanced support services, we can pave the way forward for an even more effective rough sleeping response. While the recommendations proposed in the papers may seem modest, they provide a foundation for progress and a pathway towards a society where rough sleeping is a thing of the past. Together, we can ensure that everyone has a safe and secure place to call home.
You can access the papers at the LGA website.
* Dr Ligia Teixeira is Chief Executive of the Centre for Homelessness Impact