This April, the government’s latest effort in resolving the homelessness problem came into effect, in the form of the Homelessness Reduction Act. With £61 million funding behind it, it’s hard not to feel optimistic about this latest set of regulations, but what does it really all mean? Will this de jure change turn into de facto* action?
(*That’s right, we speak Latin here at One Stop Social when discussing social policies.)
This new Act is set to “transform the culture of homelessness service delivery” by trying to get all sectors of society to work together to help people at risk of homelessness, before they are actually threatened with it. Local authorities are now tasked with helping all those eligible, not just the people with a priority need, so that fewer people slip through the cracks in the system and end up homeless. The Homelessness Reduction Act also builds on the 2002 Act by now requiring public authorities such as the NHS to actively participate in the effort by notifying housing authorities if they encounter someone they think is facing homelessness.
The government is openly committing to eliminate rough sleeping within the decade, but does this Act mean it will be possible?
Bringing in governmental support for this cause is beneficial as it shows recognition that this is a very serious problem the whole country is facing. With £1.2bn being allocated to help tackle homelessness through to 2020, some good must come – but local councils are already worried that these new policy changes will bring in excess bureaucracy and delay front-line work. The number of people rough sleeping has risen by 16% in the last year and this growth level shows no signs of slowing down. It leaves us wondering, does the new Act do enough?
The charity Shelter has high hopes for the content of the bill, agreeing that the regulations it brings could be what the country needs; but that we still need a cross-government effort to make sure the changes promised by this Act actually happen. As they put it, “if we are to reduce homelessness then homeless people need homes”. These new structural changes in policy to prevent homelessness must go hand in hand with changes to the housing industry, so that it’s easier for people to get off the streets and stay there. We can all simply say “we want to stop sleeping on the streets” without giving those currently rough sleeping somewhere to go. The root causes of homelessness might be being overlooked in this new Act, with a lack of affordable housing being a driving factor behind rough sleeping. Bringing together councils and housing authorities is all well and good, but are we establishing systems to help rough sleepers find a roof over their heads? Additionally, homelessness isn’t just brought about by a lack of housing; with mental health issues and a lack of support services playing a large part in people having no other option but to sleep on the streets. The current crisis of rough sleepers in the UK is the result of a complex concoction of social problems, meaning it will only be eradicated when we tackle every angle.
Overall, the new Homelessness Reduction Act appears to be a step in the right direction, as it signifies an integrated approach across multiple sectors to help prevent homelessness and bring people off the streets. Only time will tell though if these regulations will bring real change to those who need it.