We should look to our European neighbours for lessons on how to tackle the scourge of homelessness in England, says Brooks Newmark.
Without a secure, stable home people can struggle to maintain employment or provide the sort of home that is crucial for the nurture and flourishing of children.
A lack of affordable housing, family breakdown, substance abuse and mental illness can have a devastating effect on someone’s life chances, entrenching disadvantage and often contributing to the loss of a home. And when homeless things can get worse.
In relation to substance abuse, the London CHAIN rough sleeper database found that last year 43 per cent of rough sleepers had an alcohol support need and just over three in ten had a drugs support need. However, the factors contributing to homelessness are not insurmountable. The issue becomes one of political will. If we can come up with over £2 trillion to bail out the banks, for a fraction of one percent of that number, I believe we can eradicate homelessness in England.
Homelessness remains a blight on our society and over the past 30 years I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of rough sleeping and homelessness through my voluntary work in the sector, usually at soup kitchens and more recently with Crisis at Christmas.
Since leaving Parliament in 2015 I decided to focus on tackling homelessness. To this end I am chairing a working group of sector experts at the Centre for Social Justice. We will produce a report early next year which seeks to bottom out the real numbers of homelessness, look at best practice at home and abroad and come up with a costed and effective solution.
I am confident that we can see homelessness eradicated in England and there are many successful examples to look to for inspiration.
In recent years, Wales has looked to tackle homelessness with the Welsh Housing Act. This has seen stronger prevention measures and relief duties for eligible homeless households. While it is still early days, government statistics show the new model is working, with the number of households who lose their home falling by approximately two thirds.
In Westminster, Conservative MP Bob Blackman has introduced a Private Member’s Bill which, reflecting the Welsh model, places a stronger duty on local authorities to prevent homelessness and provide single people with access to emergency accommodation if they have nowhere safe to stay. It has been estimated that the measures in this Bill would require an additional £44 million, however this would be offset by a £47 million reduction in spending on people who are already homeless. The Centre for Social Justice has encouraged the Government to consider it and I am urging MPs to turn out to support this Bill when it comes before Parliament on 28 October. If it passes, this Bill will be an important step in reducing and preventing homelessness in this country.
The British Legion and other military charities have managed to tackle homelessness for ex-military personnel over the past decade with the percentage of rough sleepers who were in the forces dropping to around three per cent. Furthermore, Finland has significantly reduced homelessness with its Housing First model which provides immediate, permanent accommodation and wraparound support to help people maintain their tenancy.
Most homeless people I have met want a home. Somewhere to live is the first step to both resolving their health issues and finding a job. Without somewhere to live, an individual cannot begin his or her recovery.
The Prime Minister has said she wants social justice as the centrepiece of her premiership. I say amen to that. However, we need action and, yes, money to follow these words.
As a society we have a responsibility to our poorest and most vulnerable people.