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£1bn homelessness funding gap a 'matter of life and death'

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Council spending on support for single homeless people in England fell by 53% between 2008-9 and 2017-18, meaning councils are now spending almost £1bn less a year on homelessness services than they were ten years ago, a new report has found.

The report, Local Authority Spending on Homelessness, which was commissioned by homeless charities St Mungo’s and Homeless Link, found that more than £5bn less was 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 sharply, with the number sleeping rough now 165% higher than it was in 2010.

St Mungo’s chief executive Howard Sinclair says the funding gap must be a “wake-up call” for the government, and warns that failure to restore funding to previous levels is likely to lead to the government missing its target of ending rough sleeping by 2027.

He said: “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.”

Single people and couples without children have the least legal rights to be housed by their council, so are the most likely to end up sleeping on the streets. Until 2009 the Supporting People programme, funded by the government, provided councils with ring-fenced funding for people struggling to live independently to avoid and escape homelessness. When it was slashed, along with the reduction in the levels of housing-related support funding, the impact was felt acutely by 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.

Researchers from WPI Economics also found a reduction in services aimed at preventing homelessness, such as family mediation and tenancy sustainment.

The report said: “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.”

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 £1bn a year in homelessness services through a ring-fenced grant to councils.

The Rough Sleeping Strategy, which was announced last August, sets out the government’s plan to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027.

However, Local Government Association housing spokesman Martin Tett (Con) said that although the strategy provides some helpful support, 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,” 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 £1bn supporting families into temporary accommodation in 2017-18 alone, up £145m 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.”

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