Homelessness in the UK is on the rise. 2014 figures show that 2,744 people slept rough on any one night in England, a 55 per cent rise on 2010. In London, there has been a rise of 16 per cent in a single year. Homelessness is a result of poverty and creates a downward spiral that is difficult to escape from. It is clear that it is an issue that needs to be tackled, particularly given the rising figures.
The current policy on homelessness from the government centres on preventing long-term rough sleeping on the streets. The ‘No Second Night Out’ scheme has been successful in achieving this aim: its introduction led to 75 per cent of rough sleepers not spending a second night on the streets. An admirable success – but largely superficial. It does not account for the ‘hidden homeless’, those who live in hostels, nor is it a lasting solution to homelessness. It is extremely difficult to build a life around inconsistent housing.
The root problem of homelessness is not achieved by taking people off the streets into temporary housing. It is only solved by people having places to live. And the current crisis in UK housing is not helping this. The severe lack of affordable housing is forcing people onto the streets and into homelessness. In 2013-2014, only 140,000 houses were built for the demand of 250,000, hardly enough to cover those who can afford to buy them, let alone those who live on the streets. Moreover, the cut to housing benefit announced in the July budget will not be conducive to preventing homelessness, instead, making it more difficult to combat it.
When examining the most successful solutions to homelessness, offering effective housing solutions is the best way. Preventative measures have been lauded, but these do not help those who are recurrently homeless. Schemes in America and Canada offering long-term housing have been hugely successful in turning around homelessness figures. Utah has dramatically reduced their homeless problem through their Housing First program that offers housing to homeless people with no strings attached. When given a stable home, rather than inconsistent halfway housing, people were able to effectively build their lives. Similar projects in cities across Canada have brought the same results, showing that it is also more cost effective to offer housing rather than pay for the upkeep of the homeless in temporary accommodation, particularly when we included costs accrued indirectly – such as healthcare.
But these solutions seem unlikely to be as effective in the UK while housing is at such a premium and remains as expensive. Until then, the government will have to rely on preventative measures as its most effective solution until it can solve the real problem of housing.
This article was written by Benjamin Jackson, a Research Associate at the Adam Smith Institute. Benjamin is half-way through his Classics degree at the University of Edinburgh.