Tuesday briefing: What needs to change to end homelessness
By Nimo Omer,2023-01-31
Good morning. In 2019, the Conservative government pledged to end homelessness and rough sleeping by 2024 – a noble goal. But with the next election fast approaching, there is no indication that this target will be achieved. In fact, the problem is getting worse.
The Guardian’s social policy editor, Patrick Butler, reported yesterday that homeless people who are living in hostels and supported homes in England will probably be pushed back on to the street because shelters have been forced to reduce their services in the face of rising energy costs and underfunded council contracts. This is happening during a cost of living crisis that has forced more people into poverty, and left them choosing between paying rent and buying basic necessities such as food. The number of tenants served with section 21 “no-fault” eviction notices soared by 76% last year, even though the government pledged to ban no-fault evictions in 2019.
All in all, the picture looks pretty bleak. I spoke to the writer Daniel Lavelle, who chronicled his own experiences with homelessness in the book Down and Out, about how much things have changed in the last decade and what steps need to be taken to eradicate homelessness. That’s right after the headlines.
Five big stories
- Pakistan | At least 83 people have been killed in a suicide bombing carried out at a mosque in the city of Peshawar in Pakistan. A commander for the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) initially took responsibility for the attack, but hours later a TTP spokesperson distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques.
- Economy | Britain is expected to be the only major industrialised country to see its economy shrink this year after the impact of Liz Truss’s brief premiership prompted a sharp growth downgrade from the International Monetary Fund. The Washington-based agency warned it expected the UK economy to contract by 0.6% this year.
- Strikes | Leaders of the National Education Union are holding last-minute talks with the government to try to prevent industrial action by teachers this week. The strikes are expected to affect tens of thousands of schools in England and Wales.
- House of Lords | Peers have voted against the Public Order Bill, a wide-ranging piece of draft legislation that aims to crackdown on disruptive protest, putting parliament’s two chambers at odds. The defeat came as Extinction Rebellion protesters disrupted proceedings in the Lords, leading to a temporary adjournment.
- Environment | The government will set out a major environmental improvement plan today, promising to restore at least 1.2m acres of wildlife habitat and 400 miles of river. It will also commit to ensuring everyone can live within a 15-minute walk of green space.
In depth: ‘If nothing changes, homelessness is going to get worse than ever’
One in six adults in the UK have no savings at all. A survey by housing charity Shelter and YouGov found that almost 40% of UK households are a single paycheck from potential homelessness. And as more people find themselves in precarious financial positions, the services that could have helped them are stretched thin. What can be done?
How much have things changed?
In 2010, as the coalition government took over from Labour, street homelessness stood at an estimated 1,247 people in England on an average night. In 2022, official statistics put that figure at 2,900 – down from the peak of 4,750 in 2017, but still more than double the total from 12 years before. Over the last 14 years funding for homelessness services has been cut by £1bn a year, even as rough sleeping increased by 141% over the past decade. Research by the Museum of Homelessness found that the number of people dying while homeless increased by 80% between 2019 and 2021. The problem seems to be getting worse, despite government pledges that the issue would be entirely eradicated by the end of next year.
Lavelle says the “the fragmentation of public services” has only aggravated the problem. “That’s created big gaps in services, especially as they have all been outsourced to third-sector providers, private companies and charities, who have to compete for tenders and they all have different philosophies about the way they do things,” he explains. As a result, the quality of services differs drastically from location to location. “It’s almost like a postcode lottery that’s been created.”
Not only has the budget been slashed for existing services, the fundamental model used to address homelessness and rough sleeping in the UK is flawed, Lavelle says. “In this country, we generally use something called the ‘staircase model’, which requires homeless people to engage with a bunch of services like drug and alcohol addiction services, mental health service providers before they can be considered housing ready,” he says. “They’ve got to jump through a bunch of hoops and only after that will they be considered for housing.”
In this framework, housing is considered the last step in rebuilding a person’s life – but critics have pointed out that this structure puts unrealistic expectations and barriers in the way of people seeking help and neglects to acknowledge the simple fact that putting people in a stable, safe environment is often the key to addressing other issues in their life.
“If nothing changes, I think it’s going to get worse than ever,” Lavelle says.
How far away are we from ending homelessness?
If the government changed tack and addressed the problem head on, Lavelle says, “we could be weeks away from ending rough sleeping.” He’s not being facetious. The Everyone In policy the government implemented during the pandemic interrupted the upward trend of homelessness, by prioritising getting people off the streets and into safe accommodations with no strings attached.
More than 37,000 people who were sleeping rough or were at-risk were placed into temporary accommodation, and given hot meals and support. As a result, in 2020, rough sleeping was down by a third and sofa-surfing was down by 11%. In early 2021, less than a year after the scheme was launched, the government announced that the scheme had helped more than 26,000 people move into permanent accommodation. But these measures have been quietly reversed by the government, and as a result rough sleeping and homelessness have been on the rise, as soaring inflation puts more people at risk than ever.
Ultimately, says Lavelle, we need a far more radical approach to end rough sleeping. The current approach addresses the symptoms, while ignoring the root causes. He puts it bluntly: “We just need to build more social housing and that’s gonna take a long time.”
Is anywhere doing it right?
The UK is not alone in its growing homelessness problem. In California’s capital of Sacramento, homelessness has risen by 70% since 2019. The number of homeless people in France is estimated to be a staggering 300,000. But some places have been addressing the issue head on: Finland made housing an unconditional right, as opposed to a reward for “good” behaviour. Moving away from using night shelters and short-term hostels to alleviate the problem, the government, NGOs and local authorities came together to buy flats, build more homes and convert old buildings into permanent housing. The aim was to build 2,500 homes when it was launched in 2008. By 2019, 3,500 homes had been built.
And the results are striking: Finland is the only country in Europe where homelessness is declining. In the 1980s, there were about 20,000 homeless people in the country – by 2021 that number was 3,950. The country is well on its way to meeting its goal of eradicating homelessness by 2027.
“Housing first is not that revolutionary at all,” says Daniel. “It just recognises that when people are on the street, they’re not in the best place to engage with anyone because their primary concerns are where they will find a toilet that day or where their next meal will come from.
“Once you’re in a home, with your own address, in your own space – that’s when you’re in a better place and people can actually help you build your life.”
What else we’ve been reading
- The controversy over Andrea Riseborough’s surprise Oscar nomination continues. The latest twist in the tale is laid out by Andrew Pulver, with the Academy at the centre of another racism storm, as the British actor picked up a nod at the expense of Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler, who both fought for a best actress gong in a more traditional manner (fancy screenings, luxury dinners) rather than Riseborough’s “grassroots” (famous friends tweeting) campaign. Toby Moses, head of newsletters
- The gym can be an intimidating place – that’s why I’ve not been to one for about six years. But fear not, Joel Snape has written a comprehensive guide on how to overcome “gymtimidation”. Nimo
- The bloodshed in Israel and Palestine over the past week has been horrendous, with 10 Palestinians dying at the hands of Israeli soldiers on the West Bank on Thursday and seven Israelis shot dead by a Palestinian gunman as they left synagogue in East Jerusalem on Friday. Oliver Holmes explains what’s been happening in a clear, concise fashion, as fears over a third intifada – and what that might mean – grow. It’s a subject First Edition will turn its attention to in the coming days. Toby
- Decluttering guru Marie Kondo, who built a public reputation on telling people how to get rid of their stuff, has told the world that she has “kind of given up” on tidying since the birth of her third child. Mabel Banfield-Nwachi explains what prompted the change of heart. Nimo
- Undressing in front of a stranger to enjoy a rub down of your aching back is a weird enough experience, but how would you feel if that stranger was massaging the inside of your cheek instead? Leah Harper braved the new celebrity trend of buccal massage so you don’t have to. Toby
Football | Chelsea are closing in on a deal that would break the English transfer record in their £115m bid for the Benfica midfielder, Enzo Fernández. Chelsea’s bid was initially rejected this month as Benfica insisted they wanted the team to pay the clause in one sum, but talks have continued and the Premier League club are understood to be ready to pay the £115m in instalments.
Rugby | “The future of Welsh rugby is in danger,” said acting Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Nigel Walker after allegations of misogyny, sexism, racism and homophobia were aired in a television documentary last week. The claims have rocked the organisation and led to the resignation of the chief executive, Steve Phillips, on Sunday.
Football | An early goal from Jarrod Brown, followed by an assist for Michail Antonio ensured an easy victory for West Ham in their FA Cup match against Derby. Paul Warne, the Derby manager, was far from disappointed though. “The simple answer is [West Ham] are better ... Deep down I’m not sad. All I ask the lads to do is put on the best version of themselves.”
The front pages
Grim economic news for the UK dominates the front pages on Tuesday. The Guardian says, “Britain the only G7 economy forecast to shrink in 2023.” The Financial Times predicts household spending to falter under the headline, “UK alone in heading for recession as other big economies grow, IMF says”.
The Telegraph reports, “Economy to shrink after tax raid, says IMF”, while the i says, “New demand for tax cuts after Britain becomes poor man of G7”. The Mail leads with: “Why we have to cut taxes and go for growth”.
Elsewhere, the Mirror has an interview with Neil Kinnock, in which he revisits his speech from 40 years ago predicting life under Tory rule, with the headline, “Again… I warn you not to be ordinary… not to be young… not to fall ill… not to get old”.
The Times says, “Parents in limbo over classroom walkouts,” and finally the Sun looks at a controversial TikTok video from football ace Mykhallo Mudryk with, “£88m Chelsea star’s N-word shame”.
Today in Focus
How Putin’s chef became the second-most powerful man in Russia
It is now not just professional soldiers of the Russian state that are involved in the fighting in Ukraine. Increasingly, the private Wagner firm of mercenaries has become pivotal to many of the battles. Its ranks have ballooned to about 50,000, according to western intelligence estimates, including tens of thousands of ex-prisoners recruited from jails around Russia, often personally by Wagner’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
As the Guardian’s Pjotr Sauer tells Michael Safi, his own story is a remarkable one: serving time in prison as a young man before becoming a street-food seller, events coordinator and then private military commander. His rise says much about the state of modern Russia.
Cartoon of the day | Steve Bell
A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad
It took decades of living and recovering from two forms of cancer for Paris-born Sylvie Bouley, now 71, to learn how to feel at ease with her body. When she was younger and studying economics in London, she says: “I would define myself by how much I weighed. I felt good with my body at a certain weight and terrible at another.” But a diagnosis of blood cancer in 2005 and then several years later of breast cancer, led to a change in her attitude. “I made a deal with the god I don’t believe in: ‘Give me just five years – but, if you can, 10 would be even better.’” She took up ballet and tried tai chi; she joined a parkrun group that she credits with changing her social life. And she uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to change her mindset. “Instead of feeling vulnerable,” she says, “I now feel my body is strong and resilient – and something to be admired.”
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