Do they deliver on homelessness?

Tuesday, 26 November 2019 - 8:44am

Following the publication of the main party manifestos, we take a first look at how the commitments made by the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties support the fight to end homelessness.

In the run up to the general election, Homeless Link has been working with a coalition of other charities to develop and promote our shared manifesto for ending homelessness. In it, we set out demands which we believe are straightforward and achievable: every party should commit to ending all forms of homelessness, including delivering on the current government’s pledge to end rough sleeping within five years, as well as to implementing a plan to end homelessness within the first year of the new government.

As we start to digest the content of the party manifestos published over the past week, there is a lot to celebrate, but also plenty of missed opportunities to end homelessness for good. 

The commitment to end rough sleeping within 5 years has been reiterated by all parties, with the Conservatives reaffirming a commitment to the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First. Labour and the Lib Dems both pledge to scrap the Vagrancy Act, an issue Homeless Link has campaigned on along with many of our members.

Other key asks from our shared manifesto for ending homelessness were clearly visible in the Labour and Lib Dem manifestos, with Labour delivering on all three of our top line asks for truly affordable housing, strengthened welfare support and long-term, guaranteed funding for services. Labour and Lib Dems  made reference to plans to improve the supply and quality of social housing, whilst the Conservatives talked of continuing the supply of social housing and improving quality. While Labour and Lib Dems outlined plans for new house building programmes, there was limited detail from the Conservatives beyond a future Social Housing White Paper. The Conservative focus on home ownership comes at the expense of increasing the supply of truly affordable housing that is so desperately needed.

All parties pledged to tackle insecurity in the private rented sector. Among these, Conservatives and Labour promise to put a stop to ‘no fault evictions’ and Labour and Lib Dems prioritise lengthening tenancies and limiting rent hikes. There were also some very welcome commitments from Labour on future funding of homelessness services, with promises to deliver an additional £1bn a year – matching the funding requirement put forward by research we commissioned with St Mungo’s last year - and 8,000 additional homes for people with a history of rough sleeping. However we are disappointed not to see this commitment shared more widely: more sustainable and secure investment is critical to ensure that homelessness services are fully funded and fit for the future.

Ending homelessness will of course require change beyond housing and homelessness, and there are commitments to be welcomed in the areas of health, social care and welfare. Both Labour and Lib Dems recognise the inadequacy of LHA rates and pledge to increase these - welcome moves, but disappointing not to see this commitment across all parties. There are numerous other commitments around UC, the five-week wait and the current assessment regime. We know from you, our members, that the current welfare support system often doesn’t work for people experiencing homelessness. Given this, we very much welcome any commitments that provide an opportunity to create a regime that better reflects the needs of claimants experiencing homelessness and offers a stronger safety net to help prevent it in the first place.

Across health and social care there are also some welcome commitments. Labour plan to invest £1 billion in public health and address drug and alcohol-related deaths, which would go some way to helping address the chronic lack of provision in many areas. Lib Dems propose reforming the Health and Social Care Act to better provide for more efficient and joined-up health services. The Conservatives too emphasise preventative care and reducing health inequalities. However, all of these measures will need to be backed up by adequate investment and the will to truly treat homelessness as a cause and consequence of unmet health needs.

There is much to explore further across all manifestos, and in the coming week we will be publishing a more detailed analysis of the policy commitments which will impact on efforts to end homelessness for good. Whatever the outcome of the 12th December, we are committed to helping the new Government enact their plans and be ambitious in their actions. Until then, we continue to promote our calls to end homelessness and invite all our members to sign up in support of this so that together we have a strong collective vision for how this might be achieved.