Our verdict on the Autumn Budget: what will it mean for homelessness services?
Homeless Link’s submission to the Chancellor prioritised four key areas: long-term enhanced sector funding; expansion and extension of Housing First; social housebuilding; and closing the gap between welfare and rent costs by unfreezing LHA rates. So, how did the Autumn Budget measure up?
Investment boost on pre-pandemic levels must translate to long-term grants for the frontline
The Government announced plans to spend £2 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next three years, amounting to an investment of approx. £630m per year in 2022/23 and 2023/24 before rising to £639m in 2024/25. This 2024/25 figure represents an 85% increase when compared to 2019/20 levels (pre-pandemic), but a £110m reduction in spend on the current financial year.
This falls short of our calls to match the enhanced pandemic investment in rough sleeping - a £132.5 million annual boost through to 2024/25, compared to 2021/22. Simply put, this means that local areas will not be funded enough to maintain the emergency provision that made all the difference in so many people’s lives since the outbreak of COVID-19. Undoubtedly, this is a serious blow to the many services and local authorities hoping to build on this platform for a new way forward, and for a decent offer for excluded non-UK nationals this winter and beyond.
However, we remain hopeful that the marked increase on pre-pandemic investment and clear emphasis on cross-departmental working represent a reaffirmation of commitments to end rough sleeping. Crucially, we will continue to call on Government to ensure that the three-year funding commitment translates through to long-term grants to local areas under the Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI), bringing much-needed stability to services currently struggling to plan or retain staff on short-term contracts.
As our CEO, Rick Henderson, stated on Wednesday:
“The full details of the money announced are as yet unclear, and there’s still a lot of work to do and measures to bring in for the Government to meet its target of ending rough sleeping by 2024... We look forward to working together with Government to make its target a reality.”
The £2 billion envelope will need to provide for RSI funding, the completion of the 6,000 Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme (RSAP) homes and the Homelessness Prevention Grant, at least.
As we outlined in our submission, it is crucial that RSI 5 prioritises the commissioning of quality, independent immigration advice across rough sleeping services. Many local authorities remain uncertain about whether immigration advice can be funded; the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) must provide clarity and leadership so that this vastly underfunded sector can play its role, unlocking pathways out of homelessness for countless individuals every day.
We are disappointed that the Budget brought no specific mention of continued support for the Housing First Pilots, or indeed wider investment in a national Housing First Programme that we and others have called for. Now we urge DLUHC to ensure that the progress made by the Pilots are also protected through the allocations made.
Piecemeal and partial action on root causes
Crucially, the absence of action on social home-building was notable, representing a glaring gap in the Government's vision on the role of social housing infrastructure in plans to Level Up. We will continue to reiterate calls for a ten-year investment plan to realise the 90,000 social rent homes that England needs per year.
With a view to homelessness prevention, there were a range of announcements and a welcome focus on youth and early years interventions, including an extension of the Kickstart scheme, though the £560m for youth services and £500m for ‘start for life’ services and Sure Start-style family hubs fail to make up for cuts made in previous years.
Additional announcements on funds to support renters in arrears and cuts to the Universal Credit (UC) taper rate offer the opportunity to stabilise many households who would otherwise have risked losing their homes. However, the measures fall far short of our asks and, in the case of action on UC, exclude some of the most vulnerable households who are not in work.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation analysis is clear that the £65m addition to the Homelessness Prevention Grant rent payment support package for private renters facing eviction ‘during the winter months’ falls far short of the approximately £440 million of arrears that households are currently struggling with. Similarly, whilst the decrease in the UC taper – the rate at which UC is withdrawn from working claimants – from 63% to 55% is welcome, it won't help those who aren't in work, who will still be £1,000 pa worse off compared to this time last year, following the withdrawal of the £20 a week UC uplift. And speaking of welfare benefits, the freezing of LHA rates at 2020/21 levels looks set to continue, but exemptions to the Shared Accommodation Rate for survivors of domestic abuse and modern slavery have been helpfully brought forward by a year to October 2022.
In short, this is not a Budget that will bring Everyone In For Good. For that, it lacks the ambition and leadership the homelessness sector called for. However, it does show a renewed focus post-COVID-19 on our shared goals to end rough sleeping and desire to build on what has been achieved. Homeless Link remains ready to continue our work with members and Government to innovate, challenge and collaborate. We, along with tireless services across England, will continue to do our absolute best to protect, support and accommodate every person facing homelessness and provide them with a home, for good.
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Jennie is a Policy Manager at Homeless Link.