Homelessness minister gets actual insight into homelessness

Heather Wheeler said she didn’t know why homelessness was rising – a frontline visit might have left her a little wiser.


The homelessness minister who “doesn’t know” why homelessness is rising found herself on the front line – and hopefully a little wiser.

Heather Wheeler said she didn’t recognise welfare ‘reform’ and council cuts as a cause of the ever-increasing rise – with confirmation today (March 22) alone of nearly 79,000 households in temporary accommodation at the end of 2017.

But Cllr Stephanie Cryan, Cabinet Member for Housing with London’s Southwark Council, specifically cited welfare ‘reform’ during Wheeler’s visit to the borough to see the council’s homelessness prevention service in action.

A visit undertaken at Cllr Cryan’s invitation. 

Southwark is the only Trailblazer council in England to fully pilot the Homelessness Reduction Act in advance of its implementation in April 2018.

Cllr Cryan said: “While we are at the forefront of homelessness prevention, the key word is indeed ‘prevention’ – the Government needs to dig deeper in to the causes of homelessness – particularly welfare reform and the lack of affordable housing.

“An exemplary service like ours requires secure, long-term funding to cope with the level of demand and, crucially, those underlying issues which cause homelessness to be addressed.

“With the use of foodbanks increasing exponentially as people move on to Universal Credit and renting becoming too expensive for many, it’s easy to see how people falling on hard times can become vulnerable to losing their homes too.”

In January, Cllr Cryan invite Wheeler to see the borough’s homelessness prevention service in action addressing the front-line issues that the authority faces ahead of the Homelessness Reduction Act.

Southwark Council has been trailblazing the Act since October 2016, having successfully bid for £393,000 in rough sleeping grant funding and a £1m share of £20m the government pledged for its Trailblazer project.

Southwark works with a wide range of partners and the two leading specialists – Shelter as a critical friend, integral to its service, and with St Mungo’s, working on the front line of outreach work to support those in the most desperate situations.

The has ended the use of bed and breakfast for families by preventing homelessness in the first place, using more appropriate accommodation further afield, but without dispensing the authority’s responsibilities to the families, and by working with Solace and Women’s Aid to directly support those affected by domestic abuse.

And the council is currently working on a specific domestic abuse policy in order to lead on the issue when the Act comes into effect.

Government has been strongly criticised by campaign groups for failing to recognise the effect of welfare ‘reform’ such as the housing benefit freeze, the household benefit cap and the universal credit rollout on homelessness.

Wheeler has said she will resign if she fails to meet the Tory manifesto commitment to halve rough sleeping by 2022 toward total eradication by 2027.

Latest statistics show 4,751 people slept outside overnight in 2017.

Asked why during a visit to Turning Point Scotland’s Housing First project, Wheeler said: “In truth, I don’t know.”

The reason, she said, was “one of the interesting things for me to find out”.

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