There is a homelessness crisis in England and the government has failed to act, says damning report

Ross McGuinness

Homelessness in England is a “national crisis” and the government’s approach to tackling the problem has been an “abject failure”, according to a damning report.

More than 9,000 people are sleeping rough on the streets and over 78,000 households, including 120,000 children, are homeless and living in temporary accommodation, often of a poor standard, said the Public Accounts Committee.

Its report said the Department for Communities and Local government’s attitude to reducing homelessness has been “unacceptably complacent”, with limited action that has lacked urgency.

The government’s commitment to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027 will only address the “tip of the iceberg”, said the MPs, adding that there was an “unacceptable shortage” of realistic housing options for the homeless or those at risk of homelessness.

The homelessness crisis has been growing for years, with the number of people sleeping rough increasing by 134% since 2011, while there has been a 60% rise in the number of households in temporary accommodation since 2010, said the report.

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Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee, said: “The latest official figures hammer home the shameful state of homelessness in England and the abject failure of the government’s approach to addressing the misery suffered by many thousands of families and individuals.

“As we approach Christmas there are thousands of children in temporary accommodation – a salutary reminder of the human cost of policy failure.

“The government must do more to understand and measure the real-world costs and causes of homelessness and put in place the joined-up strategy that is so desperately needed.

More than 9,000 people are sleeping rough (Picture: Getty)
More than 9,000 people are sleeping rough (Picture: Getty)

“That means properly addressing the shortage of realistic housing options for those at risk of homelessness or already in temporary accommodation. More fundamentally, it means getting a grip on the market’s failure to provide genuinely affordable homes, both to rent and to buy.

“There are practical steps it can take now – for example, targeting financial support on local authorities with acute shortages of suitable housing, rather than those councils which are simply ready to spend – that would make a real difference to people’s lives.”

The MPs made a series of recommendations to the government, including calls for a strategy by mid-June 2018 on how homelessness can be reduced.

The Department for Communities and Local government has only just acknowledged that its “light touch” approach has not worked, said the report.

John Healey, shadow housing secretary, said: “This damning cross-party report shows that the Conservatives have caused the crisis of rapidly rising homelessness but have no plan to fix it.

“This Christmas, the increase in homelessness is visible in almost every town and city in the country, but today’s report confirms ministers lack both an understanding of the problem and any urgency in finding solutions.

“After an unprecedented decline in homelessness under Labour, Conservative policy decisions are directly responsible for rising homelessness. You can’t help the homeless without the homes, and ministers have driven new social rented homes to the lowest level on record.”

The government isn’t doing enough, the report said (Picture: PA)
The government isn’t doing enough, the report said (Picture: PA)

Lord John Bird, founder of The Big Issue magazine, said: “The people we see sleeping rough and living on our streets represent the mere tip of the iceberg. The fact that the ‘hidden homeless’ aren’t even included in the final figures show the extent of the problem.”

Government statistics on homelessness are “wildly out of touch” because they ignore single homeless households and focus too heavily on rough sleepers, a charity said.

Figures uncovered by Justlife through a Freedom of Information request showed that 51,467 people are living “hidden and homeless” in short-term bed and breakfast accommodation across England.

The number is based on responses from 253 local authorities and is eight times higher than government figures and 16 times higher than official rough sleeping figures, said the charity.

A government spokesman said: “Tackling homelessness is a complex issue with no single solution, but we are determined to help the most vulnerable in society.

“That’s why we are providing over £1 billion up to 2020 to reduce all forms of homelessness and rough sleeping and we are bringing in the Homelessness Reduction Act, which is the most ambitious reform in decades, to ensure people get support sooner.

“In addition, we have established a Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce across government, with support from experts, so we can respond as effectively as possible.”

(Main picture: PA)