The next five years

Wednesday, 13 May 2015 - 10:09am

We can’t afford a mindset that agonises over what the election results will do to the sector, argues Rick Henderson. It’s time to generate ideas and innovate, work more closely than ever and focus on ending homelessness.

Photograph: Bart @ Flickr

 “There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!” - Terry Pratchett, The Truth.

I doubt the late Terry Pratchett was thinking of homelessness when he wrote those words, but as a sector we could do worse than to borrow that perspective as we look ahead to the next five years.

It isn’t about settling for what we’ve got. It’s about recognising what we need to achieve, to be clear about the change we want to see and deciding how we have to work and adapt over the next five years in order to achieve it.

How we do that is the theme of the opening debate at our Annual Conference in July, but we need to start talking about it now. Yes, we’ll discuss what the new government means for homelessness. But more importantly, we’ll debate how as a sector we should choose to respond.

The political agenda

For the first time in a UK general election, all of the main national political parties mentioned homelessness in their manifestos.

It is a testament to you that we’ve kept homelessness on the political agenda. You’ve helped us to collect evidence, campaign and work with government to minimise some of the unintended consequences of reform over the past few years.

We know the new government plans to reduce the Benefit Cap further and end the provision of housing benefit for under 21 year olds (albeit with some exceptions), along with other reductions to welfare and other unprotected budgets. They aim to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants and this could have unforeseen consequences for housing supply. With the ongoing rollout of Universal Credit and tougher measures for people claiming benefits to ensure they work, we can be sure there will be challenges around supporting people through welfare change and into the jobs market.

We also know, from government statistics, that statutory homelessness increased by 25% between Q4 2010 and Q4 2014, and rough sleeping by 55%. There are signs that pressures in the housing market and welfare reforms put an increased strain on the most vulnerable people and the services that support them.

This, along with further cuts to local authorities and the need to ensure we maximise the use of alternative funding streams, such as payment by results and social impact bonds, will present greater challenges over the next few years.

And that’s precisely why a glass half full / half empty approach isn’t right for the sector.

The glass we choose

As a sector we need to send a clear message to all political parties that urgent action is needed to reverse the trends of rising homelessness and rough sleeping. Our manifesto, written with your help, outlines the steps that will make the biggest difference to ending homelessness, and we need the new government to commit to those priorities.

For that to happen, we need your help to keep every line of communication open.

As a sector, we need to keep talking, sharing information on changing trends and issues, and exploring better ways of working, making our services sustainable, and working more effectively with other sectors for people who have needs beyond homelessness. Through all that, we need to keep listening to and better representing the voices of people who have experienced homelessness.

And with government, we need to keep fostering relationships across departments, making sure that homelessness and its consequences aren’t overlooked when policy changes. Those relationships are crucial in helping government understand the impact their decisions and actions might have on homelessness. We need to be able to back them up with evidence from our members.

Join us

So let’s start talking now (email us, tweet or leave a comment below) as the new government takes shape – about what it means for the sector and how we need to respond. And please join me in July to continue the debate in earnest.

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Rick Henderson

Rick Henderson

Chief executive

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. 

Twitter: @rickviews