A damning report has revealed the government has no real plan to tackle homelessness, despite huge hikes in the number of people sleeping rough.
The National Audit Office says the Conservatives ‘light touch’ approach to solving the problem has failed and there are no proposals to properly assess the impact of welfare cuts on people losing their homes.
Since 2010, the number of people living on the streets has more than doubled and the number of households living in temporary accommodation has risen by more than half.
The spending watchdog said it was “difficult to understand” why the Department for Communities and Local Government had persisted with its current approach to homelessness “in the face of such a visibly growing problem”.
Its report also revealed:
- Homelessness in England in each of its various forms has increased in recent years.
- The affordability of tenancies is likely to have contributed to the increase in homelessness.
- The government has not fully assessed the impact of its welfare reforms on homelessness.
- The Department does not have a published cross-government strategy to prevent and tackle homelessness.
Labour’s shadow housing minister John Healey said the Tories would be remembered for their poor performance on the issue and that the report should “shame” ministers.
He added: “When this government fails, rising homelessness will be on its political tombstone.
“The increase in homelessness since 2010 is visible in almost every town and city in the country but today’s report shows ministers haven’t even bothered to draw up a proper plan to deal with it.”
According to homelessness charity Crisis, which says the government must assess the full impact of its welfare reforms, 67% of local councils in England reported that the 2010 -2015 benefit cuts had impacted on the level of homelessness in their area.
“The National Audit Office fully acknowledges what we already knew, that homelessness has got drastically worse since 2010-11,” said Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs.
“It demonstrates that while some parts of government are actively driving the problem, other parts are left to pick up the pieces, causing misery for thousands more people, as they slip into homelessness.”
He said it was down in part to the government’s decision to reform Local Housing Allowance, making housing more unaffordable for those in greatest need and more money being spent on placing struggling families in temporary accommodation - driving up already huge costs to councils.
In 2015-16 local authorities spent more than £1.1 billion on homelessness. More than three-quarters of this – £845 million – was spent on temporary accommodation.
“While a lack of cross-government strategy has undoubtedly fuelled the rise in homelessness, the forthcoming Homelessness Reduction Taskforce should help to ensure this issue is addressed,” Downie added.
“But this taskforce must strive to ensure that no part of government is causing problems while other departments are working hard to resolve the situation at hand. Working together is now the only way we will move forward to end homelessness once and for all.”
Lib Dem DCLG spokesman Wera Hobhouse sais the report should serve as a wake-up call to ministers to take action on building more affordable homes.
“This is a damning indictment of the Government’s approach to tackling homelessness,” she added.
“The £1bn cost of homelessness is equivalent to building 30,000 new affordable homes a year. Ministers must address the causes of homelessness and not just the symptoms.”
The Green Party said Theresa May’s government was “wilfully neglecting homeless people” and called for action to be taken on introducing rent controls, scrapping Right To Buy and building more social housing.
The government announced in June that it would give councils an extra £48 million in funding to help them deliver “new and expanded services” to prevent homelessness.