"Act now or risk a surge in homelessness”, Kerslake Commission warns

Lessons learnt from emergency initiatives aimed at reducing rough sleeping during the pandemic need to be embedded in long-term policy, a group of cross-party politicians and experts from the health, housing, and homelessness sectors have told the Government.

Chaired by Lord Kerslake, the crossbench peer and former Permanent Secretary of the since renamed Department for Communities and Local Government, the independent grouping said that if the Government does not build upon the progress made during the pandemic, it risked seeing a surge in rough sleeping.

The warning comes as the Kerslake Commission published its final report on homelessness and rough sleeping entitled A New Way of Working: Ending Rough Sleeping Together today (23 September).

In its report, the Commission analysed the effectiveness of the 'Everyone In' initiative, which saw an estimated 37,000 rough sleepers brought off the streets during the pandemic.

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A large part of what made the scheme effective, the report stated, was the direction to local authorities to help everyone at risk of rough sleeping, "effectively derogating rules on priority need, local connection and No Recourse to Public Funds". This improved support for groups that had previously fallen through the gaps, according to the report.

In all, the Commission made 12 recommendations, with two recommendations explicitly directed at local authorities.

The first recommendation called for local authorities to produce long-term, integrated homelessness and health strategies, and rapid rehousing plans. "This work should require a local assessment of need, conducted using local homelessness partnerships and based on a standardised methodology set by DLUHC," the report read.

It added: "This assessment of need would aim to quantify the level of central government funding needed to ensure the most appropriate accommodation is available for the individual, and that there are sustainable long term recovery options, with wraparound support where needed."

Secondly, the Commission recommended that local authorities prepare to assist rough-sleepers during adverse weather by conducting long-term, strategic planning for peaks in weather, including extreme cold or severe heat, and other contingencies.

"This strategy," the report said, "should be grounded in prevention, to ensure that people supported through severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) are kept to a minimum, and should be supported through long-term funding. The aim should be to reduce reliance on communal night shelters."

Further recommendations included a call for the continuation of 'partnership working' across central, regional and local government, and greater collaboration between housing associations and local government, as currently being promoted by the Local Government Association.

Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said the report from the Kerslake Commission sets out key recommendations that can help to prevent a new wave of homelessness.

Cllr Jamieson added: "As we look to return to normality, it is essential we build on the success of the Everyone In initiative and make sure it is not just a one-off emergency response.

"Supporting those who are vulnerable can only succeed with sector-wide working at a local level, with health, housing associations and the voluntary sector working closely together.

"Councils stand ready to work with Government to realise its ambition of ending rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. For that to happen, the Government must use the forthcoming Spending Review to announce a cross-departmental homelessness prevention strategy. This would need to see councils given the long-term funding required to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place, with welfare changes introduced in the pandemic maintained for as long as they are needed, including the Universal Credit uplift."

Speaking ahead of the report's launch, Commission Chair Lord Kerslake said what had emerged from the review was a comprehensive understanding of what it would take to bring an end to rough sleeping.

Lord Kerslake added that the analysis had been "endorsed and embraced by experts across the sector and the political spectrum".

"There is no single thing which can be done to end homelessness. It must be about both housing and health. What is needed is a series of actions covering prevention, early response, and new provision. If this is done we know what can be achieved – we have seen it in action over the past 18 months," Lord Kerslake said.

He added: "But without decisive and urgent action, backed with appropriate funding 'Everyone In' risks becoming a footnote in the history of the battle to end homelessness.

"This is a pivotal moment. The Government can take positive action, follow these recommendations and maximise its opportunity to change the future not only for those who experienced homelessness during the pandemic, but for generations to come. Or it can delay, watch as homelessness surges again, and rue what could have been."

Responding to the report, London Councils claimed the commission's findings demonstrated why the Government's Spending Review should boost investment in local services.

Cllr Darren Rodwell, the organisation's Executive Member for Housing & Planning – and a member of the Kerslake Commission – said: "The success of the 'Everyone In initiative showed how quickly change can happen thanks to effective partnerships and adequate government funding. Now we need longer-term commitments from the Government to boost local services and empower us to achieve our shared ambitions."

In its interim report published in July 2021, the Kerslake Commission said that the success of 'Everyone In' was, in part, due to an estimated extra £82m per annum, or 32% on top of the planned increase in rough sleeping reduction spending.

Click here to read the full report.

Adam Carey

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