Council spending on services for single homeless people down £5bn in nine years as rough sleeping soars

May Bulman
1 / 2
Council spending on services for single homeless people down £5bn in nine years as rough sleeping soars

Council spending on services for single homeless people in England has plummeted by £5bn in the last nine years, according to a new report, which has prompted charities to warn that many people have been left with no other option but to sleep rough.

Funding fell by 53 per cent between 2008-09 and 2017-18 – meaning local authorities now spend almost £1bn less a year on these services across England compared with 10 years ago, the research commissioned by the St Mungo’s and Homeless Link charities found.

Overall, more than £5bn less has been spent on services for single homeless people over the past nine years than would have been spent had funding continued at 2008-09 levels.

During the same period, homelessness in England has risen dramatically, with the number of people sleeping rough now 165 per cent higher than it was in 2010.

Single people and couples without children are the least likely to have a legal right to be housed by their council and so are the most likely to end up sleeping on the streets, the report states.

It also warns that support for this group is “crucial” to help them find and keep accommodation and cope with the complex problems that may be contributing to their homelessness, including poor mental health, substance use and domestic abuse.

Until 2009, the Supporting People programme – funded by the government – provided local authorities with ring-fenced funding for people struggling to live independently to avoid and escape homelessness.

That support is no longer available.

The charities are now warning that these cuts could be putting lives at risk, with data from Homeless Link showing a 30 per cent fall in the number of bed spaces in accommodation projects for single homeless people, including hostels.

These have dropped from an estimated 50,000 in 2008 to 35,000 in 2017.

While the government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy – a grant of £10m from 2016-17 to 2018-19 – has provided welcome additional funding for homelessness services, it falls short of replacing the lost funding identified in this research, the charities said.

Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St Mungo’s, said the report’s findings should provide a “wake-up call” for ministers.

“Councils have a crucial role to play in preventing and reducing homelessness and rough sleeping, but years of cuts have left them struggling to tackle rising homelessness with fewer and fewer resources,” he said. “The human cost of these cuts is all too real. The people we work with – many struggling with poor mental health, substance use or domestic violence – are often being left with no option but to sleep rough.

“With nearly 600 people dying on our streets or while homeless in a year, this really is a matter of life and death.”

Rick Henderson, chief executive of national membership body for the homelessness and supported housing sector Homeless Link, urged the government to take measures to tackle the issue in the upcoming spending review.

“Guaranteed and long-term funding for councils to prevent and resolve homelessness would be a game changer. It would allow for focused, joined-up, strategic commissioning of services that truly work,” he said. “This, alongside building more genuinely affordable homes and creating a robust welfare system that adequately supports people and stops them from being locked in poverty, should be an essential part of their plan to end rough sleeping.”

Minister for housing and homelessness Heather Wheeler MP said the government was “committed” to preventing and reducing all forms of homelessness, which she said had been backed by £1.2bn of funding so far.

“We have also implemented the Homelessness Reduction Act, which helps more people get the support they need, and at an earlier stage,” she added. “The £100m-backed Rough Sleeping Strategy was launched last year and sets out the government’s blueprint for ending rough sleeping for good – including access to specialist support services and housing advice.

“However, we must keep up the momentum, ensuring progress continues to be made and people are given the help they need to turn their lives around.”