Homelessness is a far more widespread issue than most of us realise. While we typically associate it with the most visible street homelessness, over the last decade all forms of homelessness have risen significantly across Great Britain, including families living in unsuitable temporary accommodation and ‘sofa surfers’ waiting on social or private housing. Research for Crisis found that 170,000 families were experiencing the worst forms of homelessness across Great Britain between 2013 and 2019.
In England, all types of homelessness steadily increased between 2010 and 2018, but the adoption of the Homelessness Reduction Act meant that more single people were eligible for support. There was a 4% increase in the number of homelessness applications between 2018/19 and 2019/20 (c. 292,690 and 305,680 respectively).
When the government implemented its Everyone In strategy and put a moratorium on evictions, we saw how quickly the most severe forms of homelessness could be dealt with given the necessary public and political will. As of January 2021, more than 26,000 people had been moved into settled housing or supported accommodation; but over 11,000 still remained in emergency accommodation. With seven per cent of the renting population of England and Wales now in rent arrears, when the moratorium on evictions comes to an end in June, it is likely that we’ll see rates of homelessness increase again unless urgent action is taken.
Aside from the moral imperative of keeping hundreds of thousands of people safely housed, there is a fiscal imperative for doing so at a time when the UK faces increasing economic uncertainty and the biggest recession in living memory. Evidence shows us that preventing homelessness saves up to £9,250 per person per year, money that would be better spent providing secure, affordable housing for those who need it most.
Evidence suggests that Housing First may be the most effective way to deal with the most extreme cases. It’s a model that gives people experiencing homelessness who would benefit from high levels of support, immediate and unconditional access to settled, secure accommodation and is based on the principle that housing is a human right.
But housing first comes in many different guises and may not be suitable for everyone — many people experiencing homelessness only need quick access to long-term housing and short-term financial assistance. It’s also not a silver bullet, and many people will need additional support and services in order to rebuild their lives after experiencing homelessness. That’s where individual evidence is really important to ensure that we don’t pigeonhole everyone experiencing homelessness and risk ending up with “one size fits all” approaches to policy.
When I began work researching the Private Members Bill that led to the Homelessness Reduction Act, I was repeatedly surprised by how dated homelessness law was and how long had passed since proper scrutiny by lawmakers had occurred. My work on the Bill, and more recently in my role as co-chair of the APPG for Ending Homelessness, has sought to address that outdated legislation by driving local authorities toward preventative action on homelessness and focussing resources on ensuring that such prevention is evidence-informed. But there is still work to be done.
We set up the APPG in 2016 in response to rising homelessness and with the aim of identifying, exploring and advocating for the best policy and solutions to it. Alongside MPs and peers, the APPG works with a wide range of experts from within the homelessness and related sectors to enable us to be fully informed on the debate and identify workable solutions.
In conducting this work we have come to realise that much is known about the root causes of homelessness, but when it comes to prevention, the lack of a strong, accurate evidence base has created an obstacle when it comes to implementing and assessing the impact of policy decisions. This is why a more comprehensive collection of evidence and data is so vital. The government currently doesn’t always have the necessary data to work out what needs to be done to end homelessness for good, and without first collecting that data it’s impossible to propose or implement a coherent strategy to address the situation. If we have the right evidence then it will soon become clear what the direction of travel needs to be and what action the government needs to take in the coming months and years to end homelessness for good.
Within the APPG we will continue to make the case for the government to take bold action across all departments to prevent and end homelessness in the UK to ensure that future generations are not at risk of the perpetuation of homelessness. We know that the only way to change the homelessness system is to sign the pledge and #EnditWithEvidence.
Introducing the UK’s first programme of cash transfers to relieve homelessness
We are pleased to be taking part in a ground-breaking programme which will test out an intervention to support people impacted by or at risk of homelessness.
Smarter investments to end homelessness: what works?
In this moment of great change, if we are to achieve our shared ambition to end homelessness for good, we must use this opportunity to understand how to end it effectively and sustainably.