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Ministers under fire over ‘light touch’ approach on homelessness

Liz Bates

3 min read

The Government’s ‘light touch’ approach has led to increasing homelessness ‘in all its forms,’ according to a new report by the National Audit Office. 

The spending watchdog accused ministers of failing to consider how welfare reforms could be driving homelessness and said it was ‘difficult to understand’ why greater efforts had not been made 'in the face of such a visibly growing problem'.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “Homelessness in all its forms has significantly increased in recent years, driven by several factors. Despite this, government has not evaluated the impact of its reforms on this issue, and there remain gaps in its approach.

“It is difficult to understand why the Department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem. Its recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money”.

According to the research there has been a 60% increase in households in temporary accommodation since March 2011, with 88,410 households that applying for homelessness assistance during 2016-17.​

The report noted that while local authority spending on homelessness services had been increasing, the support being received by national government had reduced.   

It found that the Department for Communities and Local Government had been taking “a light touch approach to working with local authorities,” contrasting “with the more interventionist approach that it has taken during previous periods of high homelessness.”

“Although the Department requires each local authority to have a homelessness strategy, it does not monitor their content or their progress,” the NAO concluded.   

Shadow Secretary of State for Housing John Healey MP said: “This report from the government’s spending watchdog should shame Ministers. When this government fails, rising homelessness will be on its political tombstone.

“The increase in homelessness since 2010 is visible in almost every town and city in the country but today’s report shows Ministers haven’t even bothered to draw up a proper plan to deal with it.

“It is one thing to try and fail, Ministers are not even making a serious attempt to get to grips with rising homelessness and the National Audit Office are clear that their ideological ‘light touch’ approach is hurting efforts to help those without a home.

“After an unprecedented decline in homelessness under Labour, government policy decisions are directly responsible for the rise in homelessness. You can’t help the homeless without the homes, and Ministers have driven new affordable housebuilding to a 24-year low.

“Labour will set out a plan to end rough sleeping within a Parliament, and tackle the root causes of rising homelessness with thousands more genuinely affordable homes and new protections for private renters. We will undertake a full review of support for housing costs through the social security system and halt the government’s planned cuts to homelessness hostels and other supported housing.”

Neil Sartorio, Head of Local Public Services at EY, commented:

“Given ongoing financial pressures and constraints within the public sector, local authorities will require greater support to address key social issues such as homelessness, particularly in cities and coastal towns.

“This year-on-year increase in homelessness will continue to persist, with limited progress, unless we see a step-change in how technology and innovation is embraced, in a smarter way, across our town halls."

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