Homelessness is on the rise but investment in services to prevent the issue and support individuals is falling. The Pay it Forward project aims to demonstrate the value of investing in homelessness services for individuals and society.
Local authorities: “Investment in homelessness services pays.”
With MPs gathering this morning in Westminster to discuss the issue of homelessness, Homeless Link is calling for action to protect investment in support for homeless people by local authorities. As Shabana Mahmood MP, who called the debate, rightly points out, we are currently seeing a double whammy effect, with a cost-of-living crisis and severe housing shortage.
This is forcing many people into homelessness – evidenced by the fact that the number of people approaching councils for help with homelessness has risen by almost 25% in the last three years. Thousands of people are in and out of temporary accommodation, forced to stay in precarious housing with friends, and many more are sleeping rough on our streets because they have nowhere else to stay.
"In an ideal world supply would always keep pace with demand, but we are a long way off from having the number of affordable homes we need."
Unfortunately, this increased demand for help comes at a time when investment in homelessness services is in decline. Our Pay it Forward report reveals that homelessness beds have been cut by more than 4,000 since 2010. 133 services have also closed and there are 16% fewer full-time professionals working to help people.
There are worrying signs in some areas that this trend is escalating. For example, Worcestershire County Council is currently consulting on proposed cuts of 55% to homelessness services, Torbay Council on proposed cuts of 72% and Nottinghamshire County Council cuts of 85%.
Councils, like charities, are struggling to cope with rising demand. This is reflected by the alarmingly high numbers of homeless individuals and families that have been placed in temporary accommodation, despite being legally entitled to more permanent homes.
Providing support obviously has financial implications for the tax payer but we believe the price to be paid by not investing in services will be far greater in the long-run. It is also an investment which the public support – in our recent poll of UK adults, 74% agreed that investment in tackling homelessness is a sensible use of public money. Homelessness services don’t just provide a roof, they also support many people with complex needs around their wider issues and provide a successful alternative to more costly institutional settings.
For instance, around 75% of homelessness services support ex-offenders. The offer of formal accommodation on release from prison greatly reduces incidents of recidivism. This in turn reduces the pressure on anti-social behaviour teams, police and prisons, allowing them to focus on issues of greater concern to the community. By contrast, those moving straight from custody to the streets are twice as likely to re-offend.
In an ideal world supply would always keep pace with demand, but we are a long way off from having the number of affordable homes we need. Even when we see a far greater commitment to increase the housing supply and get this moving at a local level, it will take time for enough homes to be built.
This is why it is so essential that councils focus on reducing demand for help. This means investing in vital services that prevent homelessness and offer essential support and accommodation should someone find themselves without a home.
With a further slew of budget decisions currently under consideration, Homeless Link is calling on local councils to act to ensure this support is available in the future. Central government must also play its part by sustaining levels of funding available for local housing-related support and developing a national strategy for the future provision and funding of supported accommodation services. Otherwise, we are at risk of seeing local homelessness services closed resulting in increased homelessness, which is damaging and costly to the individual, communities and society as a whole.
Download the Pay it Forward report and our briefing to MPs for the debate below.
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Rick is the CEO of Homeless Link and was appointed to that role in July 2012. He is a member of the government’s National Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel and the London Mayor’s Rough Sleeping Task Group.
15 Oct 2013 - 5:12pm