Homelessness is a Public Health crisis that must be treated like one, says Edward Jeffery.

In 2016, the Department of Energy and Climate Change was disbanded and merged with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The idea behind this scheme: to put the issue of Climate Change at the heart of the British economy. It provides the subject with more funding, expertise, attention to detail, and as we’ve seen recently, overwhelming amounts of scrutiny. Homelessness should be getting the same treatment. As a Public Health issue that has government targets to meet by 2022 and 2027, it deserves the attention of more than just one departmental boffin.

The coalition government tried showcasing their concerns on the issue by investing money and support into five different programmes. According to Gov.UK in 2014: “Over £65 million of funding from across Whitehall is being offered to councils and other organisations to tackle homelessness around the country.” This may seem like a step in the right direction. However, when you read reports from Homeless Link, you begin to question whether or not the government is aware of the most effective means of tackling the issue.

The report in question is from their ‘Young and Homeless’ executive summary from 2018. It gives a healthy breakdown of key characteristics and trends in youth homelessness and also provides a detailed bar chart on the main prevention initiatives offered by Local Authorities. In this chart it clearly states that the most crucial prevention initiatives for young people are:

1) Education in schools on life skills, healthy relationships and support;

2) Mediation for dealing with tensions in and around family life before they reach boiling point;

3) Early intervention during childhood targeting the family, not just the young person.

Although these are listed as the top three most effective methods, unfortunately they are also in the bottom three per cent of prevention initiatives provided by Local Authorities. The government is injecting all this money into trying to tackle the issue, but they haven’t even considered the right approach.

For instance, look at the vast myriad of factors that indicate why an individual is found to be in a state of homelessness. You start to realise that for the government to class the issue as solely a matter for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to deal with is an insult.

It is insulting for our government to overlook the Health department’s role in tackling homelessness, especially when mental health is a fundamental issue for many in society. It’s a problem for those who live in fear of voicing their concerns and struggle to find the right support, and for those who live on the streets and fear persecution at night. Why is it that we don’t hear about the Health department’s role in tackling homelessness? Because for them It’s below their pay grade.

Furthermore, our government continues to ignore the Education department’s role in being able to carry on the baton in this homelessness relay. Education plays a crucial role in the race. It’s part of the curve round to the home straight in eliminating and preventing rough sleeping, but also in creating a beacon of hope to those that are part of hidden homelessness – an under-represented section of society that often gets overlooked when discussing the issue.

It would be a sterling approach if the Education department looked at schemes involved in re-training, teaching life skills and offering apprenticeships. Organisations such as Beam have been set up to help get funding from the general public to fund training for homeless individuals who are seeking to get into a trade – a simple plan executed wonderfully. It is easily something the government could be seen supporting or getting on board with.

Asking for support on the matter from DWP shouldn’t be that much of an arduous task. However, this is a department that has provided the UK with an outrageous Universal Credit system. It’s a benefits scheme that rolls six payments, including tax credits, housing benefit and unemployment benefit, into one lump sum. To even the untrained eye, this stands out as a ludicrous risk. For individuals who struggle as it is to delegate their finances, this system presents itself as a deadly minefield. Not only is it reckless in nature to leave it up to the individual to manage their finances, there is research from think tanks such as Resolution Foundation that suggest the new system leaves some low-income households in Britain £1,000 a year worse off. It’s an abhorrent scheme with ‘Poll Tax’ levels of unpopularity.

If the government is genuinely passionate about treating homelessness as a Public Health issue, they must look at representing it in a selection of appropriate departments. It is not just for a low-level Minister to mull over now and again. They have a target to meet in halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it by 2027. However, with a seemingly ineffective approach from Local Authorities, many should be concerned as to whether or not the government will end up meeting this objective. 

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