“In a civilized society, it is unacceptable that people should be faced with the fear of homelessness.”
These words are said by pretty much every politician when they start talking about homelessness. However, they’re right - it is vitally important to help the most vulnerable in society get their lives back on track. This takes more than words though.
Now there is no simple answer to solving homelessness. Building more houses will be an important part of any strategy, and it is right that we increase the empty homes premium so we can bring vacant properties back into back into use.
However, it takes time to build homes. We need to see action on homelessness today.
Over the past couple of years, we have seen a change in the way that we seek to tackle this issue. There will always be a need to help vulnerable people off the streets and into safe, warm accommodation. However it is far better, and in many cases cheaper, to prevent households from becoming homeless in the first place.
In the run up to the Budget, I and other Members of Parliament such as Bob Blackman lobbied hard to get funding for Help to Rent schemes. I was delighted to therefore see an announcement in the Budget of £20million of funding for such schemes. Why? The vast majority of landlords and tenants want the same thing: a stable, secure tenancy they can both rely on. These Help to Rent projects support tenants to overcome the financial obstacles that so often trap people in homelessness, such as the need for a deposit and rent upfront. At the same time, they alleviate landlords’ concerns by providing pre-tenancy training for tenants, ongoing tenancy support and a suite of services for landlords.
The Government also announced £28million of investment in three Housing First pilots in Liverpool, Manchester and the West Midlands – a policy which the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ending Homelessness which I Co-Chair have been calling for.
We also saw good news for those renting. Whilst the Government has been using savings from the Local Housing Allowance freeze to provide Targeted Affordability Funding where rents have risen much faster than benefits, we needed to see further action. On Wednesday, we saw the Chancellor announce that we will be increasing some Local Housing Allowance rates by increasing Targeted Affordability Funding by £125million over the next two years. This means that in areas with the greatest challenges, 140,000 housing benefit recipients will see an extra £280 on average in 2018/19.
There is more work to be done. The Homelessness Reduction Act will be taking effect from April next year and we need to make sure that local authorities are given the necessary support and resources to make it a success.
However, we’ve seen measures announced this week that will make a real difference from a Government serious about tackling homelessness.
Will Quince is the Conservative MP for Colchester