Boris Johnson has recruited Tony Blair’s former homelessness czar Dame Louise Casey to lead a review into the causes of rough sleeping - even though she said only weeks ago that she would “probably not” work for the prime minister.
Her appointment came as Mr Johnson announced an extra £236 million to help get people off the streets, offering accommodation for up to 6,000 rough sleepers.
Freedom of Information figures released on Wednesday revealed that 28,000 people slept rough over a 12-month period across the UK - more than five times the 4,677 recorded in official government statistics for England in 2018. New annual figures are due to be published shortly, but the latest statistics put numbers 165 per cent up since Conservative-led governments took office in 2010.
Labour is demanding a change in the government’s official measure, based on data gathered on a single night in the autumn, arguing that it “dramatically undercounts” the number of people sleeping on the streets.
The new funding will go towards offering ‘move on’ accommodation for up to 6,000 rough sleepers and those at immediate risk of ending up on the streets, to give them stability and certainty over the long term.
Dame Louise will report direct to the prime minister and housing secretary Robert Jenrick, while Tory MP Adam Holloway has been appointed as Mr Jenrick’s parliamentary aide with specific responsibility for rough sleeping.
Over an 18-year period, she worked for four prime ministers as head of the Rough Sleepers’ Unit, Homelessness Drectorate, Anti-Social Behaviour Unit and Respect Task Force, Victim’s Commissioner and director general of David Cameron’s Troubled Families Unit.
But in a BBC interview in December, she said she would “probably not” accept a job from Mr Johnson, complaining about MPs in parliament who had been to Eton and Oxford but had not met people with different life experiences.
Speaking after her appointment was announced, the former deputy director of the housing charity Shelter said: “I am pleased to accept this commission from the prime minister and the housing secretary.
“Homelessness - and within that rough sleeping - is something that causes misery, so I hope that I will be able to help the government and the country expedite action on this issue.”
Mr Johnson said: “It is simply unacceptable that we still have so many people sleeping on the streets, and I am absolutely determined to end rough sleeping once and for all.
“Today I’ve announced extra funding to help thousands more people get off the streets, and I have appointed Dame Louise Casey as an adviser to undertake an urgent review into the causes of rough sleeping and provide expert advice on vital next steps.
“We must tackle the scourge of rough sleeping urgently, and I will not stop until the thousands of people in this situation are helped off the streets and their lives have been rebuilt.”