Huge cuts to homelessness services will trigger a surge in the number of people forced to sleep on the streets and pile more pressure on hard-pressed NHS and social care services, charities have said.
Several councils are preparing to axe housing support services, including hostel beds, refuges and sheltered housing, as they struggle to meet the demands of a fresh round of multimillion-pound budget cuts from April.
In Sunderland, the housing support budget for homeless people in the city is being cut to zero. The Salvation Army, which runs a local hostel, said the council faced hard decisions. “They have closed libraries and children’s centres and they are now having to look at cutting support to the most vulnerable people.”
Sunderland council said in a statement: “Because of budget cuts and the government’s austerity programme, the council is reviewing and remodelling many services.”
In Birmingham, voluntary organisations said in an open letter to Theresa May that it was likely more vulnerable people would die as a direct result of proposed £10m cuts over two years to services for homeless and mentally ill people.
In November a homeless man, Chiriac Inout, was found dead near a car park in Birmingham city centre in temperatures of -6C.
The government is due to publish the latest annual rough sleeping statistics for England next Wednesday, and campaigners expect another rise. Official numbers of people forced to sleep on the streets rose by a third in 2015 to 3,369, which was double the figure in 2010.
Housing support includes services aimed at helping people at risk of homelessness – such as ex-offenders, people who are mentally ill, substance abusers, or those with learning disabilities – stay in stable accommodation, as well as the provision of hostel beds and homelessness outreach initiatives.
In Norfolk, charities have said £5m cuts to housing support services – equivalent to around 55% – proposed by Norfolk county council from April would drive up homelessness in Norwich, which is already reporting record numbers of people sleeping rough on the streets.
Derek Player, the general manager of St Martins Housing Trust, a homelessness charity in Norwich, said the county council’s proposals would push up homelessness and divert more people into high-cost social care and NHS services.
He said: “I have every sympathy with councils who are charged with really difficult choices. But the services [they are proposing to cut] are the services that divert people away from expensive forms of social care. We are easy targets, but we should be invested in, not disinvested from.”
Alan Waters, the leader of Norwich city council, said the city faced a “perfect storm” of shrinking council budgets, welfare cuts and rising rents. Spending on housing support in Norfolk had halved since 2010, and Norwich anticipates a 30% increase in demand for homelessness services.
Bill Borrett, the chair of Norfolk county council’s adult social care committee, said the council would continue to protect the most vulnerable residents. “We are clear that our priorities are preventing people from getting to the point of crisis and helping those most in need.”
In Bristol, £1m cuts to housing support services – equivalent to 10% – are being proposed as the city council faces cuts of £64m. A council report said cuts to local council budgets and a national freeze to local housing allowance “will have a profound impact on homelessness amongst families in Bristol”.
Local authorities are putting the final touches to budgets for 2017-18, which will herald another round of cuts. They follow £20bn savings made between 2010 and 2015, a 40% real-terms reduction to their core government grant, according to the Local Government Association.
Rick Henderson, the chief executive of Homeless Link, which represents homelessness charities, said: “These essential services provide a lifeline for some of society’s most vulnerable people, as well as being beneficial for the wider community and the public purse, and they need protecting.
“While we recognise that local authorities are under significant financial pressure, the evidence points to the real danger that cuts today will result in immense long-term damage for vulnerable individuals and communities as a whole.
“Higher rates of rough sleeping, substance misuse, ill-health and antisocial behaviour are bound to follow and we urge local authorities to consider the impact of their decisions and do all they can to safeguard the funding of these life changing services.”
A DCLG spokesman said: “This government is committed to supporting the most vulnerable in our society. That’s why we’ve given councils almost £200bn to spend over the lifetime of this parliament, so they can deliver services that local people need and ensure our country works for everyone.
“We’ve also announced an extra £900m for social care in England, meaning councils will have a total of £7.6bn to spend over four years. Our £550m investment to tackle homelessness includes specific funding for those areas facing the greatest pressures.”
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