Tory target to end homelessness by next year will not be met, experts say

Homeless person
Homeless person

A target to end rough sleeping by next year will not be met by the Government amid “chronic and unresolved” issues in the housing system, a report by a group of experts has concluded.

The failure will come as the country faces a housing and affordability crisis which is pushing more people onto the streets, and as pressure on public services results in a lack of early support to help prevention, the Kerslake Commission said.

The independent group of 36 experts was formed in 2021 to look at the lessons from the emergency response which supported people sleeping rough during the pandemic, but said the latest official figures show long-term progress has not been made.

In September 2022, the Government published its Ending Rough Sleeping For Good strategy, which re-stated its 2019 manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament.

With a general election expected to be called at some point next year, this means the pledge would have to be met by then.

Increase in rough sleeping

But figures published earlier this year showed that the number of people estimated to be sleeping rough in England had risen for the first time since 2017.

A snapshot of a single night in autumn last year found 3,069 people sleeping rough, up 626 (26 per cent) on the equivalent total for 2021 and nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) above the level in 2010 when the figures began.

Meanwhile, the numbers of households and children in temporary accommodation – considered another form of homelessness – in England are at record highs.

Some 104,510 households were in temporary accommodation by the end of March – a 25-year high, according to government statistics released in July.

The total number of children in this situation is also at the highest level since records for that measure began in 2004 – with 131,370 children living in temporary accommodation as of the end of March this year.

The number of households who were rough sleeping when they approached their local authority for help was up by almost a fifth (18.2 per cent) from the first quarter last year, to 3,770 households, the statistics showed.

The Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping, in a report published on Monday, said: “The Conservative Government committed in its 2019 manifesto to end rough sleeping within the lifespan of the next parliament.

“During the pandemic, significant progress was made on rough sleeping and the Kerslake Commission was convened to learn the lessons from the emergency response and drive changes that would help end it by 2024.

“It is unfortunately the conclusion of the Kerslake Commission that this goal will not be met by the deadline.”

Lord Kerslake would be ‘saddened’

The family of the late Lord Bob Kerslake, who chaired the commission before his death in July, said he would have been “vociferous” in publishing the latest report’s conclusions and recommendations.

In a statement, they said he had been “saddened and dismayed by the rise of homelessness across our country”.

They added: “He was proud to chair the commission and totally committed to its findings. He would have been vociferous in publishing its conclusions and recommendations.

“His main focus would have been persuading those who have the power to make positive changes to read this report in depth, then work together to meet those recommendations.

“As his family, we firmly believe that this would be a fitting tribute to a great man who worked tirelessly for the betterment of others.”

Among its recommendations, the report said a lack of capacity within the system must be prioritised – blaming a severe shortage of social rented housing and supported housing for much of the current situation.

The commission also urged that homelessness and rough sleeping be treated as a priority within all government departments “with all sectors working together in a trauma-informed way”.

Effects of Illegal Migration Act

The Illegal Migration Act should be repealed, the report said, highlighting that non-UK nationals “are the group the homelessness sector is most concerned about, as with the passing of (the Act) there could be as many as 190,000 people with an asylum claim deemed inadmissible, leading those with no realistic prospect of return to an indefinite period of extreme hardship and poverty”.

Emma Haddad, commission member and chief executive of St Mungo’s homeless charity, said the report “sets out starkly that we are working against the tide”.

She added: “We made so much progress on rough sleeping during the pandemic, which clearly demonstrated what can be done when we work together with a shared purpose and dedicated funding.

“It’s time we applied the same energy to stop this homelessness and rough sleeping crisis spiralling further.”

A spokesman for the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities paid tribute to Lord Kerslake for his “life’s work” on the issue and said the Government is “focused on ending rough sleeping for good”, spending £2 billion “to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in the areas that need it most”.

They said “significant progress” had been made “with over 640,000 households prevented from becoming homeless or supported into settled accommodation since 2018”.

Separately, homeless charity St Barnabas said its research suggested “worrying insights into the public perceptions and awareness of homelessness”, with 70 per cent of people it surveyed saying they do not consider unsuitable accommodation as a form of homelessness, and 82 per cent admitting they would not know what to do if someone they knew was homeless.

The research, surveying 2,000 UK adults earlier this month, comes as the charity launched a new campaign to improve public understanding of homelessness and a free photographic and educational exhibition in central London featuring artists who have experienced homelessness across the UK.