Government urged to fix £1bn hole in homelessness services

Reports show that council spending on support for homeless people in England fell by 53% between 2008-9 and 2017-18.

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New research commissioned by St Mungo’s and Homeless Link have revealed the extent of nine years of government cuts on local services for single homeless people.

The report includes calls to government to redress the shortfall of the £1bn hole in the upcoming spending review, as the charities warn that cuts to council budgets are leaving increasing numbers of people at risk on the streets.

Local Authority Spending on Homelessness, by WPI Economics, shows that council spending on support for single homeless people in England fell by 53% between 2008-9 and 2017-18.

This means that local authorities in England are now spending almost £1bn less a year on these vital homelessness services compared to ten years ago.

Overall, more than £5bn less is said to have been spent on services for single homeless people over the past nine years than would have been spent had funding continued at 2008-9 levels.

During the same period, homelessness in England has risen, with the number of people sleeping rough now 165% higher than it was in 2010.

Single people and couples without children are the “least likely” to have a legal right to be housed by their council and the removal of the government’s ring-fenced funding for local authorities in 2009 is said to have had a dramatic effect on homelessness services.

Data from Homeless Link shows a 30% fall in the number of bed spaces in accommodation projects for single homeless people, including hostels, from an estimated 50,000 in 2008 to 35,000 in 2017.

On the report, Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s CEO said that the “shocking” gap should be a wake-up call for the government, with a lack of action in restoring funding to previous levels likely to cause a miss in government targets for ending rough sleeping by 2027.

He added: “The human cost of these cuts is all too real. The people we work with – many struggling with poor mental health, substance use or domestic violence – are often being left with no option but to sleep rough.

“With nearly 600 people dying on our streets or while homeless in a year, this really is a matter of life and death.

“The government must use this year’s Spending Review to put the money back and to turn the tide of rising homelessness.

“It can only do this by committing to a programme of guaranteed, long-term funding, so that everyone can find and keep a home for good.”

Rick Henderson, CEO of national membership body for the homelessness and supported housing sector, Homeless Link, said: “There are too many people sleeping rough and facing homelessness in this country – we can see it every day on our streets and it is unacceptable.

“Local authorities have a key role in supporting people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, but they can only do so if they have enough money to fund services properly.

“Guaranteed and long-term funding for councils to prevent and resolve homelessness would be a game changer. It would allow for focused, joined-up, strategic commissioning of services that truly work.”

Further commenting on the release of the report, Local Government Association Housing spokesman, Cllr Martin Tett, said: “This timely report highlights the significant barriers facing councils, who between 2010 and 2020 will have lost almost 60p out of every £1 they had from government to spend on services, and face a funding gap of £421 million on homelessness services alone by 2024/25.

“Councils want to end homelessness by preventing it happening in the first place, but are currently housing more than 200,000 homeless people, many of them children, in temporary accommodation.

“Councils spent nearly £1 billion supporting families into temporary accommodation in 2017/18 alone, up £145 million from 2015/16. This is bad for families and unsustainable for councils, which as a result have less funding to invest in preventing homelessness for everyone.

He added: “The government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy provides some helpful support, but more needs to be done to prevent homelessness happening in the first place.

“To achieve this, the government needs to use its upcoming Spending Review to reform the welfare system, free councils to build more social homes, and sustainably fund them to deliver homelessness services.”

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