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Damning National Audit Report on Homelessness

This week the National Audit Office published a damning report on homelessness, where it criticised the government for sleep walking into a crisis. The report said the capping of Local Housing Allowance has, in part, been responsible for the increase in homelessness in recent years. It also accused the department for Communities and Local Government’s recent performance in reducing homelessness, as not being ‘value for money’.

There is almost no town or city in the UK where homelessness has not become more visible, here in Worthing, our Community Hub is packed each morning with up to 30 rough sleepers having breakfast, showers, getting clean clothes and talking to our staff about their situation. Walking down North St in Brighton I can easily count 15 rough sleepers on that road alone, the pavements are lined with mattresses, sleeping bags and the bags of those who have tried to pack all their worldly possessions into a tattered suitcase or a hiking rucksack. Living on a pavement, they are denied dignity, privacy and humanity.

We have all felt the squeeze since the austerity measures were brought in, whether you are a public sector worker struggling with a pay freeze or you are having to wait longer to get a doctor’s appointment or fight harder to get your benefits, homelessness is the ultimate price paid for a failing system. The report challenged the government’s decision in 2011 to change Local Housing Allowance, saying that it had “likely contributed to the affordability of tenancies for those on benefits and are an element of the increase in homelessness.”

Not only that, but since 2010 the cost of rented accommodation has increased three times faster than the average earnings across England, with that figure rising to eight times in London. This has inevitably resulted in the ending of a private sector tenancy becoming the largest driver of statutory homelessness in England.

Has the government been spending money on homelessness? Yes, £1.1 billion is spent by local authorities, but is it enough? No, rough sleeping has increased by 134% since 2010 and the number of households in temporary accommodation has increased by 60%. More than three quarters of this money is spent on placing households in temporary accommodation; spending on temporary accommodation has increased by 39% since 2010. While spending on temporary accommodation has increased, the money available to prevent homelessness is squeezed. The stock of public housing has run low and councils have to place families in the private rented sector, desperately trying to hold onto a shrinking pool of landlords that will take those who have previously been homeless and those housing benefits.

Another criticism, is that the department does not have a robust estimate of the wider costs of homelessness on public services like healthcare and the justice system. Neither is the amount spent by charities such as ourselves taken into consideration. Our turnover is £2.6 million annually and we are a small regional charity. In fact, the whole system for measuring the success or failure of the department’s homeless strategy is shaky at best. Although it has agreed outcomes for specific programmes with local authorities and works closely with other departments interested in homelessness, it does not have a published cross-government strategy to prevent and tackle homelessness. The department requires local authorities to have a homelessness strategy it has taken the decision not to monitor these.

It seems that the government does not want to ask questions, as they know what the answers will be. Even the report admits that “it is difficult to understand why the Department persisted with this approach in the face of such a visible growing problem.” Slowly there begins to be progress to maximise the effectiveness of resources, however for many people in our community and across the country sleeping out tonight, it has come too late.

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