Following the announcement of the autumn 2018 budget, Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, analyses what the Government’s plans mean for those sleeping rough or at risk of homelessness.
Amongst talk of an ‘end of austerity’ budget, the Chancellor yesterday delivered one that was really a missed opportunity from the perspective of homelessness.
It had been a positive summer, with the Government listening to the homelessness sector and deciding to keep funding for supported housing in the welfare system, as well as publishing a rough sleeping strategy which contained a variety of interventions to stop the scandalous rise in the number of people sleeping rough across the country.
However, the Budget failed to build on these developments, and did not contain measures which will deliver on the Government’s commitment to halve rough sleeping by 2022, and end it all together by 2027.
There were bits of positive news to be found which – if delivered with homelessness in mind – could contribute to helping people off the streets.
A new mental health crisis service
On mental health, there was the news that a new mental health crisis service will be developed, as part of the NHS Long Term Plan. Given the scale of the mental health crisis on the streets and the difficulty many have accessing support, this is particularly welcome.
The service will include comprehensive mental health support in every major A&E, more mental health specialist ambulances, and more crisis cafes. We want to see this service work with people sleeping rough who have mental health problems, providing support on the street if necessary.
More money for the NHS
However, we know that prevention is always better than cure. We want to see fewer people getting to crisis point and helped much earlier before conditions worsen.
People sleeping rough have much higher rates not only of mental illness, but of physical health problems too, and shockingly high levels of mortality. So the cash injection for the NHS – £20bn over the next five years – is desperately needed and clearly welcome. But we know that without a clear plan, these kinds of funding injections often don’t make their way through to helping the most vulnerable. That is why we want the upcoming NHS Long Term Plan to earmark some of these funds for specialist services for people sleeping rough, to ensure their needs are not forgotten.
Funding to address problems in Universal Credit roll-out
Universal Credit roll-out has had a particularly damaging impact on people sleeping rough, which is why the £1bn announced in the budget to address problems with roll-out is welcome. These problems include large deductions being taken from Universal Credit awards to repay Advance Payments and other debts such as rent arrears. We are also seeing increases in arrears for service charge in supported housing, as Universal Credit no longer allows claimants living in supported housing to request direct payments to their landlord for the likes of gas and electricity.
The complexity of the new system means that many struggle to navigate it and make a claim without support. The cumulative effect of this is to make it even harder for people to move on from homelessness.
We want this new funding used to address these serious problems. However, in order to stop vulnerable claimants being pushed further into destitution, we still want to see a pause in the roll-out to give time for the process to be fixed.
But not enough to end rough sleeping…
Despite these positive notes, the overall feeling is that this was a missed opportunity. With no funding measures on rough sleeping specifically, and no plans to tackle the key drivers of homelessness, there is still much more to do to get close to the Government ambition to ending rough sleeping by 2027.
We need to see further commitments to increase social housing, strengthen private renting and funding for homelessness services for people to find, and keep, a home for good. We will be working to build support for these changes in the months ahead. With the numbers sleeping rough continuing to rise, we cannot afford to delay.
Our Home for Good campaign is calling on the government to put an end to rough sleeping by ensuring that everyone gets the long-term housing and support they need to rebuild their lives. Sign Kevin’s open letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.