Theresa May should be proud of her legacy on homelessness
Bob Blackman MP writes on Theresa May's support for the Homelessness Reduction Act and his asks for the new administration.
It is simply incomparable, the shift in attitude toward a Private Members’ Bill when the incumbent Prime Minister throws the weight of government behind it.
Back in 2016 I was drawn second in the Private Members’ Bill ballot and little did I know how supportive Theresa May would be. I knew of her belief in public duty and her years of service. However, I did not know I could count on support coming direct from Number 10.
At first, our priority was to determine the scope of the legislation and identify who needed the most help. Another hurdle was the language used: the first working title was ‘Homelessness Prevention Bill’ which was vetoed on the grounds it would have made being homeless illegal, which was rather problematic to say the least!
A principle aim of the legislation was to challenge the status quo at councils across England (the Act is England only legislation) and to change the culture. We asked council officers to change their whole approach to tackling homelessness from rationing service to the minimum required by law to an approach of “how can we help?”. They would then need to consider how they approach each individual case, if they have used all available powers to assist a homeless person or family and then finally, to ensure they follow up on all cases, by constructing an individual plan for each applicant rather than a simple blanket approach.
A central part of the legislation is the duty to refer and the simplest description is this: specific public authorities must identify and refer a service user (individual or family) who is (i) homeless (ii) at risk of becoming homeless, to the local housing authority and the user must have selected the authority and provided consent. This only became active on the 1st October 2018, so we await data on the impact.
Aside from the duty to refer, a key aim was to help the individual. All too often, if a single person with no dependents presented themselves to a housing authority they would receive next to no assistance. Therefore, our next step was to include measures in the legislation which protect people and give advice and counsel at times of need.
The Act as now on the statute book is extremely complex, the most expensive on record when compared with other Private Members’ Bills and involved having countless difficult conversations with stakeholders. The support from Theresa May’s team meant an immense deal to me and those working on it from the outside.
Once she voiced support and provided government backing, the Bill received the assistance we sought and the obstructions were removed. Even colleagues who originally objected to parts of the Bill came to their senses without need for any further persuasion.
The first set of figures shows that, in the first 6 months of the Act, more than 10,000 people have been prevented from becoming homeless demonstrating that the legislation is having a positive impact.
We now have a new government and priorities are being set, the domestic agenda will be drawn up and finalised. For all its flaws, the previous administration cared a great deal about the poor and needy and passed legislation which made their lives better.
Even going as far as the commitment in the 2017 manifesto to eradicate homelessness altogether, Theresa May genuinely cared about helping the homeless and improving their lot. Much of this was started by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, and I hope she continues her fight against burning injustices from the backbenches.
Right now, in the immediate and urgent sense, we need the new administration to pledge its support for keeping the 2017 manifesto pledge to eradicate homelessness– otherwise the positive legacy of Theresa May counts for little to those who need our help.
Bob Blackman is Conservative MP for Harrow East.