The government’s shameful track record has just been exposed in the most damaging way possible

Tory Homelessness Theresa May
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The Conservative government’s appalling track record has just been put into stark context by a new report that exposes the failures of successive policies. And shamefully for Theresa May, it’s a report by one of her own departments.

The National Audit Office (NAO) is an independent government department responsible for ‘scrutinising’ public spending. It just released its latest report into homelessness in the UK. And the criticisms of the Conservative government are overarching.

A shameful record

The NAO found that the government has presided over [pdf p16] a:

  • 134% increase in the number of rough sleepers since autumn 2010.
  • 73% increase in the number of children in temporary accommodation since March 2011.
  • 63% increase in the number of households where their council had to step in to stop them being homeless since 2009/10.
  • 60% increase in the number of households in temporary accommodation since March 2011.

Chaos on our streets

Its report also found that:

  • 74% of the growth [pdf p8] of households in temporary accommodation since 2009/10 was because of private tenancies ending.
  • Since 2010, the cost of private renting has increased [pdf p9] at a rate of three times that of wages; in London, this is eight times [pdf p22].
  • Government spending on temporary accommodation has increased [pdf p9] by 39% in real terms since 2010/11.
  • Local authority spending on “housing services” has dropped [pdf p10] by 21% in real terms since 2010.
  • Since March 2010, there has been a 17% increase [pdf p35] in the number of households placed in temporary accommodation outside the borough they live in. Almost 90% of these are in London.
  • Only 5% of households in 2016/17 were homeless due to repossession [pdf p21].
  • The shortfall [pdf p24] people are left with in rent, due to reduced housing benefit, is £50 a week in London and £26 in the rest of England.

The DWP. Again

The NAO was critical of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). It said the DWP had:

  • Conducted [pdf p23] “impact assessments” on government welfare reforms that “did not reflect the full scale of potential wider impacts, including an increase in homelessness”.
  • Not been able [pdf p23] to “overcome..challenges” to decide whether changes to Local Housing Allowance (including the ‘benefit cap’) had affected homelessness.
  • Increased [pdf p26] the budget for Discretionary Housing Payments but not bothered to “evaluate” whether this had helped reduce homelessness.
  • Does not “know” or “understand” how welfare reforms and funding changes have affected [pdf p28] homelessness.

A ‘care-not’ government approach

It also fired criticism at the government, saying:

  • Spending on homelessness prevention and support had fallen [pdf p26] by 9% in real terms since 2010/11.
  • It does not bother to consider, or measure, the wider impact [pdf p28] of homelessness on other public services like the NHS.
  • That it has not bothered to publish [pdf p37] a “strategy that sets out how it will achieve” its homelessness objectives.
  • It is pursuing [pdf p38] a “light touch” approach to tackling homelessness.
  • Local councils can no longer access [pdf p38] “guidance and support” from central government.
  • Its collection [pdf p39] of homelessness data has “limitations”, and local councils have “concerns” about this.

Failing policies

Overall, the NAO noted [pdf p41] that the government is allocating £61m to local councils over the next two years to tackle homelessness due to new legislation. But it said that the government had admitted [pdf p41] that this will result in a:

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  • 7% increase in applications for homelessness assistance.
  • 15% fall in households that qualify for temporary accommodation.
  • 36% increase in cases of homelessness prevention or relief.

The NAO said that the government has “estimated” that in the long run this will reduce homelessness. But it was critical of its approach, saying [pdf p41]:

It is too early to say if the Department’s estimate of the number of cases is reasonable. It is also not yet clear how the Department will allocate the £61 million between local authorities, and whether it will provide additional funding where the impact is greater than expected. If the Department’s estimates are incorrect it is reasonable to assume that some local authorities’ costs will be higher than the funding and they will need to make up the shortfall.

Shame on the Tories

A government spokesperson said:

Our welfare reforms restore fairness to the system with a strong safety net in place to support the most vulnerable, including £24bn through the housing benefit. There’s more to do to make sure people always have a roof over their head and ministers will set out further plans shortly, including delivering on our commitment to eliminate rough sleeping entirely.

The NAO report has highlighted a perfect storm of systemic failings by successive governments, exacerbated by a crisis in housing. It shows that not only are the Conservatives failing to address the homelessness crisis engulfing the UK, but they have a ‘care-not’ attitude when it comes to it.

Action is needed, and it is needed now. But sadly, it will probably be left to the countless homeless support networks out there to pick up the pieces of a mess caused by a disinterested government.

Get Involved!

– Support homelessness group Streets Kitchen.

– Read more from The Canary on homelessness and the housing crisis.

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