We can only solve homelessness by actively preventing it

Abena Oppong-Asare
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

When the Covid-19 lockdown came into force, a huge cross-sector effort virtually ended rough sleeping overnight. It became clear that with determination and enough funding, the seemingly impossible task of housing the country’s rough sleepers is possible.

Unfortunately these efforts have not been sustained, and rough sleepers find themselves back on the streets. Worse still, when the ban on evictions ends this Sunday, many more people will be put at risk of homelessness.

Rough sleeping in England has increased by between 140% and 250% in the past decade. As well as rough sleepers, there is also a growing crisis of hidden homelessness – those sofa surfing, living in temporary accommodation or sleeping in night shelters and refuges.

In December 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to ending rough sleeping by 2024. Far from bringing an end to this crisis, the lack of prevention we have seen over the past decade is pushing another generation towards an increased risk of homelessness.

Homelessness is caused by wealth inequality: as the cost of living rises, more people are pushed into precarious living situations. Alongside a widening inequality gap, a lack of prevention in mental illness, drug and alcohol dependency and domestic abuse is also contributing to this rising crisis.

As a country, we are facing a pandemic-induced economic and employment crisis. In my constituency alone, over 3,000 people have applied for Universal Credit since March this year. Young people are one of the groups facing an increased risk of homelessness in the future if the government fails to invest in prevention now.

Hundreds of thousands of young people have graduated university this year, and millions more have left schools or sixth forms. These young people are entering the toughest jobs market we have seen in decades. As rent prices and the cost of living continues to rise, the opportunities for young people continue to decrease.

The Children’s Society’s Good Childhood report this year found that an alarming one in five young people report low wellbeing, and that 15-year-olds in the UK are among the saddest and least satisfied with their lives in Europe.

Investment in youth services and mental health services has decreased drastically over the past decade. Paired with a lack of opportunities in the jobs market and the failure to help secure young people’s academic futures following the recent exams fiasco, young people are heading towards a future of economic and personal insecurity.

The importance of prevention in all areas must not be undermined, and this must be available to everyone throughout their lives. A good standard of education, access to mental health services, volunteering opportunities, skills-based training, investment in higher education are all needed to ensure young people can form stable futures.

However, as the number of problems facing young people continues to grow and the threat of homelessness becomes increasingly imminent, there is one area in which the government can immediately invest in to provide security and prevent homelessness: housing.

Social housing continues to be one of the biggest needs for people young and old in all areas of the UK. Research this week by the National Housing Federation shows there are now 3.8 million people in need of a social home. Access to social housing means that whilst tackling mental health issues, a lack of job opportunities or dependencies, people can at least have a roof over their heads and a place to call home.

Backed by over 60 organisations including charities, banks and think tanks, the Homes at the Heart campaign is calling for the government to make a “once-in-a-generation” investment in social housing as part of their plan to help the country recover from coronavirus. Not only will this provide safe and affordable homes to those most in need of them – funding new social homes will also create jobs, kickstart the economy and develop thriving local communities in places that have previously been neglected.

Social housing is the main preventative measure that needs to be put in place because access to housing means no person is ever forced to sleep on the streets. This must become and remain a main priority for the government in charge.

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