New homelessness boards

Administrative tinkering or an opportunity to end rough sleeping for good?

Photo of Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer
Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer

Last week the Government finished its first stage of consultation on a shake up to local authority structures for tackling homelessness. Changes to statutory structures may not be something that gets the heart racing, but when it comes to delivering the changes and funding needed to end rough sleeping for good, they could have a key role to play, writes Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer for St Mungo’s.

Rough sleeping – the most dangerous form of homelessness – has risen by 165% since 2010. This is the result of spiralling housing costs, increasing insecurity for private renters and cuts to services that prevent homelessness – all problems that require national Government to act.

And yet, it is actually local authorities who are charged with the primary day-to-day responsibility for tackling homelessness. Since the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) came into force last year, this responsibility has expanded to include providing advice and support to anyone at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness.

What are Homelessness Reduction Boards?

The latest government proposal – to create Homelessness Reduction Boards in local authorities – builds on the positive momentum achieved by the HRA, and the Rough Sleeping Strategy, to get a grip on the growing homelessness crisis in England. The proposal is an attempt to ensure all relevant public services and agencies step up as members of these new boards, and they are held to account for their part in preventing and reducing homelessness and rough sleeping.

So far so good. But as many of us know, central Government hasn’t made this job easy for local authorities of late.

A challenging backdrop

Recent research from St Mungo’s and Homeless Link, published last month, shows that local authority spending on services for single homeless people fell by 53% between 2008-09 to 2017-18. This drop is the result of cuts in funding from central government, particularly impacting ‘Supporting People’ services, which focus on helping people to avoid and escape homelessness. Add to this the wider issues of a lack of social rented housing, unaffordability and instability in the private rented sector, and welfare reforms, and we see a dangerous combination of factors which have increased individuals’ vulnerability to homelessness.

So with such a challenging backdrop, how can an administrative change really be expected to deliver the impact required to end rough sleeping? The short answer is that on its own, it can’t.

But there are a couple of reasons why this is a more than worthwhile exercise:

  • Firstly, because at the local level there is a huge variation in the way any strategic response to homelessness is developed, implemented and monitored. Sometimes this means that elements of the ‘system’, such as health services, are failing to play their part.
  • Secondly, because we believe these new structures could be the vehicles for central Government to deliver the resources councils need to tackle the problem.

Investing the funding that’s needed

We believe Homelessness Reduction Boards – or a similar set-up where good oversight and accountability is assured – should provide Government with the confidence to invest the extra £1 billion in homelessness services that we know is needed. Having mandatory structures closely scrutinising what services deliver, key partners such as the NHS, prisons and children’s services working to prevent homelessness, and collecting data to demonstrate and respond to this, should satisfy Government that each pound will be spent effectively.

The jury is still out on the impact this could have. As always the devil will be in the detail. The principles of these new Boards, however, seem sound and provide an opportunity to secure the funding desperately needed for homelessness services.

This shouldn’t avert our focus from the other vital changes required – including building more social homes and improving private renting. Only when these solutions come together will we see everyone have a home for good, and a country in which no one faces the injustice of sleeping rough.

Read our full response to the consultation.

Click here to call on your MP to help reverse the cuts to homelessness services and make sure everyone has a Home for Good.