Governments attitude to homelessness 'unacceptably complacent'

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Parliament's Public Accounts Committee recently examined the way the government is dealing with homelessness, publishing a report, Homeless households and releasing the following statement:

"The extent of homelessness across England is a national crisis.

"It is appalling that at any one time there are as many as 9,100 people sleeping rough on our streets.

"More than 78,000 households, including over 120,000 children, are homeless and housed in temporary accommodation, which can often be of a very poor standard.

"In addition there are ‘hidden homeless’ people who are housed by family and friends in shifting circumstances, but not captured as part of the official figures.

"Homelessness can be a devastating blight on the lives of those who experience it: the average rough sleeper dies before the age of 50, and children in long term temporary accommodation miss far more schooling than their peers.

"The homelessness crisis has been growing for some time: since 2010 the number of households in temporary accommodation, for example, has increased by more than 60 per cent, and since March 2011 the number of people who sleep rough has risen by 134 per cent.

"The Department for Communities and Local Government’s attitude to reducing homelessness has been unacceptably complacent. The limited action that it has taken has lacked the urgency that is so badly needed and its 'light touch' approach to working with the local authorities tackling homelessness has clearly failed.

"The Department is placing great reliance on the new Homelessness Reduction Act to provide the solution to homelessness.

"While this new legislation will no doubt help, it cannot be successful unless it is matched by a renewed focus across government on tackling the twin issues of both the supply and affordability of decent housing, which underlie the causes of homelessness.

"Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP said, The latest official figures hammer home the shameful state of homelessness in England and the abject failure of the Government’s approach to addressing the misery suffered by many thousands of families and individuals.

"As we approach Christmas there are thousands of children in temporary accommodation – a salutary reminder of the human cost of policy failure.

"The evidence we heard from organisations that work with homeless people should serve as a wake-up call: Government decisions are not made in a vacuum and the consequences can be severe.

"The Government must do more to understand and measure the real-world costs and causes of homelessness and put in place the joined-up strategy that is so desperately needed.

"That means properly addressing the shortage of realistic housing options for those at risk of homelessness or already in temporary accommodation. More fundamentally, it means getting a grip on the market’s failure to provide genuinely affordable homes, both to rent and to buy.

"Delegating a problem is not a solution and we do not share the Government’s faith in the cure-all potential of the Homelessness Reduction Act.

"There are practical steps it can take now – for example, targeting financial support on local authorities with acute shortages of suitable housing, rather than those councils which are simply ready to spend – that would make a real difference to people’s lives.

"We urge it to respond positively and swiftly to the recommendations set out in our Report."

Commenting on the report, Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, who gave evidence to the Committee, said, “This report confirms the fact that some government policies are causing homelessness while others are attempting to pick up the pieces. The good news is that with the right changes in policy, homelessness can be ended.

“Over Christmas and throughout winter, thousands of people across the country will be sleeping out in the cold, and thousands more will be trapped in unsuitable temporary accommodation, or sleeping in cars or on public transport, hidden from help. The mental and emotional impacts of this crisis cannot be understated: the average age of death of a homeless person is just 47 years old, and they are nine times more likely to commit suicide than the general public. This cannot go on.

“Last month we welcomed the government’s pledge to establish a Homelessness Reduction Taskforce. Now, the taskforce must quickly get to work and take forward the recommendations of this report, particularly to ensure that welfare reform tackles rather than causes homelessness, and also to join the government’s housing strategy with the need for truly affordable homes for homeless people. When we know that homelessness can be ended and prevented from happening in the first place, there’s no excuse not to act.”

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