Homelessness in England is a national crisis and the government’s approach to tackling the problem has been an abject failure, a committee of MPs has said.
More than 9,000 people are sleeping rough on the streets and more than 78,000 households, including 120,000 children, are homeless and living in temporary accommodation, often of a poor standard, according to the Commons public accounts committee.
It says in a report that the attitude of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to reducing homelessness has been “unacceptably complacent”.
The government’s commitment to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027 will address only the “tip of the iceberg” and there is an unacceptable shortage of realistic housing options for homeless people and those at risk of homelessness, it says.
Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee, said: “The latest official figures hammer home the shameful state of homelessness in England and the abject failure of the government’s approach to addressing the misery suffered by many thousands of families and individuals.
“As we approach Christmas there are thousands of children in temporary accommodation – a salutary reminder of the human cost of policy failure. The government must do more to understand and measure the real-world costs and causes of homelessness and put in place the joined-up strategy that is so desperately needed.”
She suggested practical steps that could be taken now. “For example, targeting financial support on local authorities with acute shortages of suitable housing, rather than those councils which are simply ready to spend. That would make a real difference to people’s lives,” Hillier said.
The report says the number of people sleeping rough has increased by 134% since 2011, and there has been a 60% rise in the number of households in temporary accommodation since 2010.
The MPs make a series of recommendations to the government and call for a strategy by mid-June 2018 on how homelessness can be reduced. They say the DCLG has only just acknowledged that its “light touch” approach has not worked.
John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, said: “This damning crossparty report shows that the Conservatives have caused the crisis of rapidly rising homelessness but have no plan to fix it.
“This Christmas the increase in homelessness is visible in almost every town and city in the country, but today’s report confirms ministers lack both an understanding of the problem and any urgency in finding solutions.
“After an unprecedented decline in homelessness under Labour, Conservative policy decisions are directly responsible for rising homelessness. You can’t help the homeless without the homes, and ministers have driven new social rented homes to the lowest level on record.”
John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue, said: “The people we see sleeping rough and living on our streets represent the mere tip of the iceberg. The fact that the ‘hidden homeless’ aren’t even included in the final figures show the extent of the problem.”
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