James Brokenshire is Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup.
As Conservatives, we know the importance of a home. It is a shared space that binds family together, offering safety and comfort. It forms the backdrop to so many of our memories and their brick walls and solid foundations give a sense of certainty to our futures. Homelessness is more than the lack of a bed; it’s a denial of your past and future.
At the time of writing this, around 4,750 people are bedding down for a night on the streets. I’ve met some of these people. I’ve heard their stories, hopes and despairs. I know that each act of rough sleeping is an individual tragedy and I know we can and must end it. The Government’s new Rough Sleeping Strategy is an important first step to achieving that.
We’ve set an ambitious target of halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eradicating it by 2027. These are challenging goals and more action will be needed from across government to achieve them.
There can be no success without preventing more people from living on the streets. Understanding the issues that lead to rough sleeping and being able to address them before people are forced to sleep rough is paramount in our new strategy. It’s clear there is not a one-size-fits-all solution and so we’ll be listening to understand how different groups experience homelessness as well as working to build our understanding of the links between modern slavery and rough sleeping.
Building on the work of the Rough Sleeping Initiative, we’re also setting aside up to £17 million to fund Somewhere Safe to Stay pilots to quickly assess the needs of people at risk of rough sleeping and support them to get the right help. This means working locally with NHS England and Public Health England to fill gaps in health services for people sleeping rough as part of the long-term plan for their health and social care. Starting with £2 million this year, we have asked NHS England to spend up to £30 million over the next five years on health services for people who sleep rough.
To support this we’re also investing in training for front-line staff, including training on how to interact with those under the influence of substances like spice, identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery and domestic abuse, as well as how to effectively support LGBT people who are homeless.
A stable home is an essential element in a person’s recovery from sleeping rough, but it needs to go hand-in-hand with flexible support that is tailored to individual needs to help them keep it.
This includes £50 million of funding that will increase the supply of housing outside of London for people who have slept rough or those who are ready to move on from hostels or refuges and need additional support. A further £19 million of funding provides flexible support in homes provided exclusively for people with a history of sleeping rough, and funding from dormant assets will provide up to £135 million, the majority of which will go to supporting innovative financing for homes for people who sleep, or are at risk of sleeping, rough.
There’s also funding to help local areas grow enterprises to support vulnerable people into accommodation, offering advice, building stronger relationships with local landlords and making good use of local housing supply. Further to this there will now be a homelessness expert in every Jobcentre Plus to offer advice, signpost to information and services, and provide support.
Conservatives understand that we can’t adopt a Victorian attitude to rough sleeping. We can’t ignore the scar it leaves across communities and places. The occupied shop doorways and park benches are a reminder that it won’t fade if we simply ignore it. How we respond to homelessness should be a litmus test for our society.
It is simply unacceptable that people have to sleep on our streets and I am determined to make it a thing of the past. Whether people are at risk of rough sleeping, already on the streets or in need of settled accommodation, we now have a solid plan to help the most vulnerable in our society. And this is not just about putting a roof over their heads but helping them find a place to call home. They need and deserve our support and, through our expert-backed strategy, I am confident they will get it.