Saul Alinsky said “the problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions;” We can say the same thing about ending homelessness in the UK.
We know how to end homelessness. It could happen quickly and across the whole country.
A recent report from the LSE gives us many of the answers. They reference detailed work looking at what would happen to homelessness in the UK under a range of scenarios.
They found that the two most promising approaches were what they call “no welfare cuts” and “max prevention”.
“No welfare cuts” perhaps does not need much explaining. Despite the ongoing pandemic, the government has taken the decision to freeze the local housing allowance. This comes after a prolonged period of austerity where the government has consistently reduced the generosity of the housing benefit system.
Linking the amount of housing benefit that people can claim to local rents would quickly and permanently reduce the number of people that become homeless each year.
Perhaps as important as the amount that is given out is who gets it. The current housing benefit system is complex and stigmatised. Every year billions go unclaimed. Anyone that has worked in homeless services or benefits advice knows that the system can be particularly hard to access for people who face other stresses and strains. Changing this would have a dramatic impact.
“Max prevention” refers to the type of joined up approach to preventing homelessness that is used in Newcastle. This means involving huge numbers of different people from different organisations in identifying those that are at risk of becoming homeless and helping them, with advice and support. This might sound straightforward but it involves lots of training and facilitating networks, all of which requires resources.
Although not easy, both these approaches could be rolled out at pace, nationally
Housing benefit is not looked upon fondly by many politicians or activists. It’s often portrayed as a “subsidy for landlords”. Similarly, the idea that people who work in churches or pubs or bookies might be able to spot and help people that are at risk of becoming homeless goes against many people’s political instincts.
Nonetheless, if we want to quickly end homelessness we need to embrace these approaches and commit to creating a generous social security system that protects people and mobilising all our communities’ resources to ensure people get good quality advice and support before they end up sleeping rough.