The homelessness election? Why the main parties have said more on homelessness than you might think

As the UK prepares for the General Election this week, our Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, Rory Weal, takes a look at the commitments that each of the four largest political parties in England have made to tackle homelessness in their manifestos.

You’re unlikely to have missed that there is a general election happening this Thursday. It’s dominated the airwaves over the past six weeks.

But you’d be forgiven for having missed what the parties have been saying about homelessness. With so much airtime going on other issues from Brexit to the NHS, it’s been easy to overlook that the major parties have been talking more and more about homelessness. This has stepped up in recent days with both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson publically condemning rough sleeping, saying they’ll end it within five years if they win on Thursday.

But at St Mungo’s we want politicians to move beyond soundbites, we need real action to tackle rough sleeping. The number of people on the streets has risen 165% since 2010, and last year, on average, two people died every day while sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation. This is nothing short of a national disgrace that needs urgent action, not lip service.

That’s why we teamed up with five other homelessness charities – Centrepoint, Crisis, Depaul UK, Homeless Link and Shelter – to form the End Homelessness Now campaign. Together we are calling on parties to ensure everybody in our society has a safe and stable home, by putting in place a clear plan that commits to:

  • Improving access to truly affordable housing, by building at least 90,000 social homes a year over the next five years, and improving security for tenants in the private rented sector
  • Strengthening support through the welfare system, through housing benefit that covers the cost of rent and fixing Universal Credit so that it doesn’t push people into homelessness
  • Providing long-term, guaranteed funding for services which prevent homelessness and quickly get people off the street and into a stable home.

Last week at the national housing hustings we had an opportunity to put these messages to senior figures from each of the largest parties in England. Former St Mungo’s client and campaign champion Kevin Farrell made a powerful case for action when he said that the support he relied upon when he slept rough 10 years ago is no longer available: “Enough is enough. What are your concrete plans to end rough sleeping?”

Now with all of the manifestos published, we can outline what those concrete plans are. Below is a summary of the relevant commitments in the manifestos of the four largest parties in England, based on the number of MPs elected at the last election:

Conservatives

  • End rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament by expanding programmes such as the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First, and bring together local services to meet the health and housing needs of people sleeping on the streets.
  • Introduce stamp duty surcharge on non-UK resident buyers to fund £120 million to tackle rough sleeping.
  • Abolish ‘no fault’ evictions and only require one ‘lifetime’ deposit which moves with renters.
  • End the benefit freeze. Continue the roll out of Universal Credit, and do more to make sure that Universal Credit works for the most vulnerable.

Labour

  • End rough sleeping within five years, with a national plan driven by a prime minister-led taskforce.
  • £75bn to build 150,000 new council and social homes a year, within five years.
  • Make available 8,000 additional homes for people with a history of rough sleeping.
  • Raise the Local Housing Allowance in line with the 30th percentile of local rents.
  • Earmark an additional £1 billion a year for councils’ homelessness services.
  • Expand and upgrade hostels; with extra shelters and support in place in all areas over winter.
  • Repeal the Vagrancy Act.
  • Ensure that all strategies and services are tailored to understand needs unique to LGBT+ homeless people, particularly young people.
  • Scrap ‘no fault’ section 21 evictions and replace with open ended tenancies, with rent controls.
  • Universal Credit will be scrapped. People will immediately be stopped from moving over to the system.

Liberal Democrats

  • To end rough sleeping within five years, and urgently publish a plan to end all forms of homelessness.
  • Build at least 100,000 homes for social rent each year.
  • Exempt groups of homeless people, and those at risk of homelessness, from the Shared Accommodation Rate.
  • Introduce a ‘somewhere safe to stay’ legal duty for people at risk of sleeping rough.
  • Ensure financial resources for local authorities to deliver the Homelessness Reduction Act.

Greens

  • Fund councils to deliver over 100,000 new social homes.
  • Lift the local housing allowance and reconnect it to average area rents.
  • Give councils clearer guidance and better training on helping homeless people, and fund a wider range of services including Housing First – costs can be met from a £10 billion yearly uplift to council funding.
  • Refocus council services in this area on homelessness prevention, through expanding and combining multiple funding pots into a single grant distributed to councils.
  • Repeal the Vagrancy Act.

We didn’t get everything we wanted from all parties, but with a range of clear commitments to end rough sleeping and many welcome policies to achieve that aim we have something to hold each of them to account on.

We believe we can continue to urge whoever wins on Thursday to step up efforts to tackle the homelessness crisis. We are encouraging our supporters and clients to vote on Thursday, and ensure that the next government’s acts to End Homelessness Now. The costs of not acting are too high.