A matter of life and death: Charities urge action on £1bn hole in council homelessness funding

NINE years of government cuts have left the plight of single homeless people at risk of being swallowed by a £1 billion funding hole, according to new research.

The funding gap, caused by cuts to council budgets, has left local services struggling to cope, according to St Mungo’s and Homeless Link, which commissioned the research.

The charities are warning that the funding gap is leaving increasing numbers of people at risk on the streets, prompting them to call on the Government to act now and make up the shortfall — or face missing its target to end rough sleeping by 2027.

In a new report, Local Authority Spending on Homelessness, produced by WPI Economics, it is claimed 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 £1 billion less a year on these vital homelessness services compared to 10 years ago.

Overall, more than £5 billion less has 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 dramatically, with the number of people sleeping rough now 165% higher than it was in 2010.

“This shocking billion pound a year funding gap must be a wake-up call for the Government,” said Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St Mungo’s. “Councils have a crucial role to play in preventing and reducing homelessness and rough sleeping, but years of cuts have left them struggling to tackle rising homelessness with fewer and fewer resources. If the Government does not act to restore funding to previous levels, it is likely to miss its target of ending rough sleeping by 2027.

“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.”

Single people and couples without children are the least likely to have a legal right to be housed by their council and so are the most likely to end up sleeping on the streets.

St Mungo’s and Homeless Link say that support for this group is crucial to help them find and keep accommodation, as well as to cope with the complex problems that may be contributing to their homelessness. This includes poor mental health, substance use and domestic abuse.

Government cuts to funding for single homelessness services have hit hard, the organisations say. Until 2009 the Supporting People programme, funded by the Government, provided local authorities with ring-fenced funding for people struggling to live independently to avoid and escape homelessness. The impact of the removal of this ring-fence along with the reduction in the levels of housing-related support funding has been felt acutely by homelessness services.

The charities are warning that these cuts are leaving vulnerable people with nowhere to turn and could be putting lives at risk. 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.

Researchers asked councils and service providers about the impact of the cuts. They are said to have found “worrying reduction” in services aimed at preventing homelessness, such as family mediation and tenancy sustainment. Without early intervention services, people cannot access support until they reach crisis point, and for many this means being forced to face the dangers of sleeping rough before getting any help.

While the Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy has provided welcome additional funding for homelessness services, it falls short of replacing the lost funding identified in this research.

St Mungo’s and Homeless Link are calling on the Government to use the upcoming Spending Review to redress the shortfall by investing an extra £1 billion a year in homelessness services through a ring-fenced grant to local authorities.

“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,” said Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link. “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. The Government have a chance to do this in the upcoming Spending Review and we urge them to do so.

“This, alongside building more genuinely affordable homes and creating a robust welfare system that adequately supports people and stops them from being locked in poverty, should be an essential part of their plan to end rough sleeping. It’s only right that people have a place to call home and the support they need to keep it.”

Councillor Martin Tett, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, called the report “timely”.

“[The] 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,” he said.

“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.

“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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