What are the impacts of welfare reforms on homeless?

“What can happen when the key principle of political administration under austerity is to save money at all costs?”

The number homelessness is at its highest rates in central London, with as many as one in 25 without a home in Westminster and one in 69 in Brighton. The number of people sleeping rough in England, from 2010 to 2015, on any one night has doubled since 2010 and increased by 30%, with an estimated 3,569 people now sleeping on the streets across England.

I have been interview services providers for my doctoral research. So, what are the impacts of welfare reforms on homeless service providers?

Some of my preliminary findings are indicating that impact is that services providers are highlighting that welfare reforms left their services “very overstretched really”. For example, a local councillor said that: “Very overstretched really. There are not enough resources given the scale of the problem and the council has cut its prevention work and that having an impact. They cut prevention work and hostel provision because of austerity and then managed to get a government grant to compensate for the cuts because the situation is so bad in Brighton”.

Cuts are having a detrimental impact on homelessness service provision. The key to deal with homelessness is prevention but there is strong argument to say that the current high numbers of people in the UK experiencing homelessness are a consequence of reducing welfare, which acts as a social net to prevent homelessness. But Finland is a sound example that working with multiple services providers on a robust welfare can decrease homelessness. At the end of the 1980’s, there were almost 20 000 homeless in Finland but by 2008, the numbers had fallen to about 8000 people. The number of homeless people halved between 1987 and 1996 partly because of various measures that were taken to prevent homelessness. By 2008, the homeless who were easier to be housed would be housed. The first Finnish National Programme to Reduce Long-Term Homelessness succeeded in halving the long-term homelessness by 2011.

Meanwhile, in England 114,790 households applied to their local authority for homelessness assistance in 2015/16, an 11% rise since 2010/11 and, 57,730 households were accepted as homeless and in ‘priority need’ — a six per cent rise on 2014/15. Housing First means preventing homelessness. The principle is to offer permanent housing and needs-based support for homeless people instead of temporary accommodation in hostels or in emergency shelters. The reduce homelessness you need a sound welfare system.

A front line case worker noted: “I have worked with people where they have been housed but they struggle with council where they are left in places that are left in very bad state people who have moved in and are ill that were homeless and moved in had literally all the internal doors painted in black gloss the wall would be painted in black gloss with nails coming out the floor, floor boards not clean all so repair the council have allowed people in with a low state of repair. You know that is just difficult and try to make sure that they are getting the benefit that they are entitled to because the DWP (Department for Work and Pension) are making that harder and harder. Well, they are making PIP much more difficult for people to get the personal independence payment so it is quite usual to have to go to tribunal now and that puts the client into a lot of stress. We need to make sure that people have enough advocacy […] It is a real stretch point [..] because the DWP puts a deadline for everything that puts the practitioner under pressure then to help someone fill in a form out by a certain time”.

Theresa May’s administration claims to be determined to help the most vulnerable in society and is committed to ensuring people have a roof over their heads. We can note with some assurance that it is failing badly. Since 2010, housing policy has prioritised the privatisation of social housing by extending the Right to Buy scheme and by pressuring local councils to sell their most valuable council homes. Much affordable housing has rents much closer to private rates. At the same time, there has been a 56 percent increase in six years families were declared homeless after losing a home rented in the social sector in the last year. In England 114,790 households applied to their local authority for homelessness assistance in 2015/16, an 11% rise since 2010/11 and, 57,730 households were accepted as homeless and in ‘priority need’. Is that not problematic with local council selling their social housing? One of the impacts of austerity is the lack of a long-term coherent strategy and it is not seen that your policies are causing the increase of homelessness. So, it is time to roll back cuts.

In such context, there need to be long-term and transformative anti-austerity policies need to be explored. First of all, end austerity. There ought to be a restructured and robust investment social housing system fit for human habitation. Policies need to be made under the evidence and meticulous analysis; social housing is the fundamental pathway to reduce homelessness. The Government £550m to 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping is precarious because of the impact of its own welfare reforms. The Prevention Trailblazer £20m to new initiatives to prevent homelessness without a thorough re-evaluation of policies such as the universal credit, bedroom-tax, Personal Independence Payment (PIP), the Right to Buy scheme and council homes is anti-strategic. Such approach is like trying to feed an elephant, which you left in your room to grow uncared for, with peanuts. The impacts of welfare reforms are the rising number of homeless people and the uncoordinated approach to reduce it. There is not a plan to prevent or reduce homelessness but the plan is to just chaotically manage it. This an alarming consequence of welfare reforms and its cuts. What can happen when the key principle of political administration under austerity is to save money at all costs?

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