Robert Jenrick is Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and is MP for Newark.
At the start of this pandemic, the Government knew that we had a duty to protect the most vulnerable people in society, from the elderly to those shielding with health conditions.
And this was especially necessary for those people sleeping rough on our streets – a part of the community who are especially susceptible to the dangers of the virus.
We were elected on a manifesto commitment to eradicate rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament, and the pandemic meant redoubling our efforts to take urgent and decisive action. Our immediate task was to mobilise all levers of government to accelerate our plans to provide urgent support to rough sleepers.
Working closely with local councils, charities and faith groups we created the ‘Everyone In’ campaign in a matter of days. By helping over 90 per cent of those sleeping rough on our streets into safe accommodation, we mercifully avoided many deaths, and to a great extent the scenes of vulnerable people left in deserted city centres seen in places like New York.
We have now housed 29,000 vulnerable people, supporting over 10,000 into emergency accommodation and 19,000 into settled accommodation or with move-on support. Relatively few of those helped in have returned to the streets. This work has not stopped – and will not stop.
As we look back on a tumultuous and difficult year, the progress made in this area is one of the most positive legacies of the pandemic and has been recognised as one of the most successful policies of its kind in the world. Subsequent studies by the ONS and in the Lancet have estimated the lives saved and as far as one can ever know, they are considerable.
I want to thank everyone – including the many ConservativeHome readers, Conservative councils and Mayors like Andy Street – who have been involved in this huge national effort.
It’s only been possible due to a coalition of central government, local government, charities, volunteers and outreach workers who have delivered life-changing support to rough sleepers since the onset of this pandemic and I am grateful for their tireless work during such a challenging time.
Money alone is not answer to this most complex of challenges. But we are providing the resources needed. This year alone, we have already committed over £700 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping from all angles. The recent Spending Review increased our commitment by 60 per cent on the last one, so this level of investment will continue beyond Covid.
We always knew this winter would be especially challenging, and so began planning in the summer. The new Protect Programme is providing a further £15 million for councils requiring extra support throughout winter to provide accommodation for rough sleepers and we will continue to work closely with local authorities to develop these plans.
This is in addition to the £92 million allocated to 274 councils in September to fund their individual plans for rough sleepers over the coming months, as well as the £10 million Cold Weather Fund for all councils to help keep rough sleepers safe this winter – meaning all councils are eligible for support to bring forward Covid-secure accommodation this winter.
We are also making a further £2 million available for faith and community groups to support rough sleepers into self-contained and Covid-secure accommodation.
Through such programmes as Housing First, we are also tackling the root causes of rough sleeping for those with multiple and complex needs. This includes building partnerships with housing providers and finding innovative ways to access secure and safe accommodation.
Not only have we introduced unprecedented support to protect renters throughout the pandemic, but we have approved grants to deliver 3,300 new long-term homes across England for those sleeping on the streets.
This is part of a broader £433 million package which will provide 6,000 homes for rough sleepers over the course of the Parliament – the largest ever investment in this kind of accommodation, and one that will leave a lasting legacy of this Government’s commitment to protecting vulnerable people. It takes inspiration from the homes for the homeless established 30 years ago by the then Conservative Housing Minister, Sir George Young.
Once allocated housing, rough sleepers will receive the specialist support they need and an opportunity to turn their lives around, taking forward the Housing First approach and expanding it into almost every local authority in the country.
But we know that our work is not done. In addition to the significant pressures caused by Covid, the winter poses a new series of challenges for both those sleeping rough on our streets and the services working around the clock to help them. And if history is a guide, rising unemployment risks more people finding themselves on the streets. My department is working with all councils in England to update their rough sleeping plans for winter and beyond to ensure that we are able to meet the challenges in the months ahead.
Building on the unwavering partnerships born out of this pandemic, let us now continue to secure brighter futures for those who are most in need of our help.
This is not an easy issue to solve. Rough sleeping is as much a health issue as it is a housing issue – it is often a crisis of addiction and mental health as well. As more than 50 per cent of those sleeping rough are ex-offenders – it requires a new approach to those leaving prison. And as more than 60 per cent of those on the streets of central London are from outside the UK, it requires a different approach to immigration enforcement, making use of the controls available to us after leaving the EU. The Home Secretary, Justice Secretary and Health Secretary are all working with me to ensure the most coordinated approach we’ve seen.
Nobody’s path is predetermined. Working across government, we will help as many of those living on the streets as possible to transform their lives and fulfil their potential. This is our duty as Conservatives, and one we will continue to strive to meet.