George Osborne is preparing to announce extra cash in Wednesday’s budget to tackle what he has called the “unacceptable” growth in homelessness.
More than £100m has been earmarked for a series of measures aimed at helping people at risk of being forced on to the streets.
The chancellor will announce cash to provide 2,000 accommodation places for rough sleepers who are ready to move on from crisis hostels and £10m for homelessness prevention projects.
Osborne said: “Homelessness is simply unacceptable in our day and age. I am absolutely committed to helping homeless people get back on their feet, into safe accommodation and obtain the skills they need to get on in life.
“I won’t stand by and see things going in the wrong direction – and we have a particular problem with rough sleepers in London. That’s why I am announcing a major new package of measures to help get a grip on this problem.”
The announcement comes amid increasing concern at the growth in homelessness over the past five years. Official data show numbers of people rough sleeping in England have doubled since 2010.
David Cameron admitted last week at prime minister’s question time that the government needed to “work” on homelessness and rough sleeping, as both were areas where there were “particular challenges at the moment.”
The government is considering whether to impose a new legal duty on councils in England to help all individuals at risk of becoming homeless.
It is understood some of the rough sleeper investment announced by Osborne will be focused on so-called social impact bond (SIB) projects. These are payment-by-results initiatives where providers and investors are paid only when they have shown they have turned around the lives of specific client groups.
An existing £5m SIB helping 831 rough sleepers in London rewards charities when they achieve positive outcomes for clients including reducing street sleeping, moving them into settled accommodation, reducing their use of NHS accident and emergency services, and getting them into sustained work or volunteering.
Homelessness campaigners are likely to welcome any serious attempt by the government to tackle rising homelessness, although they will point out that it needs properly coordinated policy across Whitehall if it is to be successful.
Charities which provide hostel and supported accommodation for homeless people warned MPs last week that proposed cuts to housing benefit announced by the chancellor in the autumn would lead to the axing of thousands of hostel beds.
The chief executive of the St Mungo’s homelessness charity, Howard Sinclair, said: “If these services close, vulnerable people will end up in prison, hospital or on the streets.”
Those planned housing benefit cuts come on top of huge reductions to local authority housing support services for vulnerable people in recent years. According to Homeless Link, which represents homelessness charities in England, funding in this area has been cut by a third since 2010.
Shelagh O’Connor, director of London-based youth charity New Horizon, said it was seeing growing numbers of homeless young people who were unable to find accommodation because of rising rents and cuts to housing benefit.
She said: “ I welcome any investment in accommodation for homeless people. A big issue is that hostels have closed. Access to accomodation has deteriorated rapidly in recent years.”
As the Guardian revealed last week, ministers have been studying the impact of a new homeless prevention duty introduced by the Labour administration in Wales last year. Early results show a significant reduction in the number of households offered a full homeless duty, suggesting more intensive prevention work was helping to keep more people in their homes.
The mooted “no one turned away” duty would force local authorities in England to provide all residents who are homeless or at risk of losing their home with practical assistance to maintain a tenancy or find a suitable place to live.
However, local authorities in London have warned that a new Welsh-style prevention duty will not be enough tackle a crisis caused by rising rents, a shortage of affordable housing and inadequate housing benefit help.
Newham council has told the House of Commons select committee inquiry into homelessness that London faces a housing “disaster scenario” where low paid, working people become homeless because there is nowhere affordable to rent.
Newham and other local authorities in London, including Westminster and Wandsworth have called for existing homelessness laws to be diluted to enable them to more easily rehouse homeless families in cheaper areas outside the capital.
Although this has proved politically toxic, the councils argue it is impossible to source affordable accommodation for rising numbers of homeless households because of housing benefit restrictions and shrinking council housing stock as a result of right to buy.
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