Brooks Newmark was the MP for Braintree until 2015 and is a former Minister for Civil Society. He now chairs the Centre for Social Justice working group on homelessness.
Since leaving Parliament in 2015 I decided to focus on tackling homelessness. To this end I am chairing a working group of sector experts at the Centre for Social Justice. We will produce a report early next year which seeks to provide a set of policy recommendations to better prevent and tackle homelessness.
As I have seen first hand with my work with the homeless over the years, a shortage of affordable housing, family breakdown, substance abuse and mental health problems can have a devastating effect on someone’s life chances, entrenching disadvantage and contributing to the loss of a home. And when homeless things only get worse.
Last week I was delighted when the Prime Minister announced a new £40 million programme to help tackle homelessness. This programme includes a new £10 million rough sleeping prevention fund to help people who would otherwise be forced to sleep rough and £20 million for local authorities to trial new initiatives to prevent homelessness at the earliest stage. A further £10 million Social Impact Bond programme has also been launched to help long-term rough sleepers.
Alongside this commitment the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, this week, announced the Government’s support for Bob Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill. This is an extremely welcome step forward from the Government to help tackle the blight of homelessness. I am urging MPs to vote in support of this Bill on Friday to ensure that councils are legally required to prevent homelessness for all eligible homeless households, not just those who are considered in ‘priority need’.
In recent years, Wales has sought to address this problem through new homelessness legislation. This has seen stronger prevention measures and relief duties for eligible homeless households. While it is still early days, government statistics show that the new model is working, with the number of households who lose their home falling by approximately two thirds.
Bob Blackman’s Private Member’s Bill broadly reflects the Welsh model. It creates a new prevention duty for local authorities to help anyone who is eligible and threatened with homelessness within 56 days, regardless of priority need status, local connection or intentionality. It also creates a new duty for local authorities to take steps to relieve the homelessness of anyone who is currently homeless, eligible for assistance and has a local connection to the area. Crucially there are provisions in the Bill to ensure that households are expected to take reasonable steps to resolve their own homelessness and a new duty on other public bodies to make referrals to local authority homelessness teams if they are working with people who are homeless or at risk of being homelessness.
As we have seen in Wales, this new legislation will likely result in far fewer people losing their home, reducing the personal harm and stress caused to individuals and reducing the spend for local and national government. New research out from Crisis this week has also shown that more work to prevent homelessness early could save the Government up to £370 million per year.
As well as Government backing, the Bill has also received pre-legislative scrutiny by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, who have backed the Bill. Furthermore, at the end of last week the Local Government Association, which represent over 349 English councils, have added their support to this piece of legislation.
I am urging MPs to turn out to support Bob Blackman’s Bill when it comes before Parliament this Friday. If it ultimately passes, it would be a landmark step forward in reducing and preventing homelessness in this country.