Can we solve homelessness in England?
Regrettably, the answer has to be no and more regrettably, all of the known facts clearly show homelessness in England will increase and significantly increase. I have outlined some of the main facts in this 3500 piece that are all referenced and I could give many more examples. They focu on England alone as for example Scotland has abandoned priority need status and Wales has a new six month eviction notice and other factors in both countries apply that make homeless practice very different to that in England where it lags behind and my discussion here focuses on England only. Let’s cut to the facts.
Homeless means not having a home just as penniless means you don’t have a penny. Specifically and importantly it means not having a permanent home so for example the resident in a homeless hostel or a domestic abuse refuge is still home-less. A rough sleeper is somebody who is roofless by necessary distinction and homeless as well. The rough sleeper is one of many home-less cohorts yet all too frequently and wrongly many equate those who are roofless with being the only homeless cohort.
Below is a ‘wordle’ developed by Homeless Link, the national homeless lobby who also advise government and local councils on the official yearly rough sleeper count (which saw just 26% of councils in the last ‘count’ in 2019 actually undertaking a physical count and 74% providing a desktop-based estimate.) The words “roofless” and “rooflessness” do NOT appear in this ‘homelessness’ wordle by Homeless Link!
The pandemic has thrust these critical distinctions of home-less and roof-less into sharp focus with government admitting some 15,000 roofless persons have been placed in temporary hotels as part of the Everybody In initiative and many commentators wrongly saying this proves we can end homelessness.
It means nothing of the sort and explained when we look at the facts not the hyperbole around the Everybody In initiative:
- 15,000 hotel rooms were ONLY available due to NOT being available to the normal customer of hotels. The availability of hotel rooms was temporary and solely due to the pandemic lockdown. Once hoteliers revert to their normal customer Everybody In becomes Everybody Out – and the hyperbole disguises the reality.
- The 15,000 figure is from 302 of 331 English local authorities and is an incomplete and understated figure. This partial data extrapolates to 17,000 for all English LAs and government also state it is 90% of known rough sleepers which makes the roofless number 19,000.
- These 19,000 represent those who are roofless at any given time and who are a tiny proportion of the single homeless numbers in England who in turn are just a proportion of the full single and family homeless numbers in England.
IF, and it is a huge ‘if’, we could find 19,000 x 1-bedded properties right now then the immediate 19,000 roofless persons could be accommodated and we have solved rooflessness? No. England’s system creates a minimum of 35,000 rough sleepers per year or 3,000 or so on average each month and the government admitted figure (see below) of 15,000 which becomes 19,000 as explained was from 2 June and some two months ago meaning the immediate roofless rehousing need is 25,000 at the end of July (today) so we need 25,000 x 1-bedded properties just in England and not 19,000 needed to solve rooflessness.
To put that 25,000 figure into some context official figures reveal all council and HA landlords in England, aka the social rented sector or SRS, allocate 13,000 properties per year to single homeless persons and some 250 properties in total per week and is just 1% of the immediate 25,000 rehousing need of today as Everybody In becomes the Everybody Out phase of this initiative.
Practically can we even solve rooflessness? – No!
The figures reveal the English SRS allocate at 250 per week average just 1% of the immediate 25,000 single homeless need in pre-pandemic or ‘normal’ times and which will and must create a higher number of rough sleepers and roofless persons than in ‘normal’ times and also note this 13,000 pa and 250 pw figure has been a constant figure for many years as other official figures such as CORE and SRD confirm. It means the private rented sector would have to provide 99% of the immediate rehousing solution for the rough sleepers and some 24,750 of the 25,000 need of those accommodated temporarily in the otherwise unavailable hotels during Everybody In and even that assumes no additional rough sleepers are created by the pandemic and recession.
Cold hard facts are what is needed here not hyperbole and zealous assertions full of hope and no substance yet that is what we have as typical commentary. Cold hard facts are obfuscated when homeless ‘experts’ stop using words such as roofless and lead others to the false deduction that the only homeless are the roofless and visible rough sleeper and alludes to those being in homeless hostels or temporary accommodations are NOT homeless when they are. The residents of hostels and refuges are home-less as they do not have a home!! Meanwhile homelessness ‘experts’ get their knickers in a twist over anyone saying the word “vulnerable” to describe the support needs of homeless persons yet insist on not using the words roofless or rooflessness.
The reality is that in England we have zero practical chance of solving rough sleeping i.e. rooflessness never mind solving the much greater scourge called homelessness. That is not a negative statement it is statement that is evidenced by fact and reality and context and which means even if SRS landlords somehow allocate 5 times their ordinary rehousing (which they can’t) it still leaves over 95% of the Everybody In solution to be ‘resolved’ by the private landlord.
Will the private landlord rehouse the rough sleeper?
The answer to that has to also be no for a number of reasons. Firstly, the PRS did not house the rough sleeper in pre-pandemic times as the fact we have so many roofless rough sleepers attests. Secondly, and linked, the roofless rough sleeper cohort has always been perceived as being too high a risk to house or rehouse and by the SRS landlord not just the PRS landlord.
Moreover, and huge in significance, is the fact government is going ahead with the abolition of no fault eviction in a Renters Reform Bill which will change the face of all single homeless rehousing and allocation in England. The simple reasoning here, aka stating the bloody obvious, is that as it becomes much more difficult to evict a tenant it means all landlords will become far more circumspect over whom they house in the first place.
Why would ANY landlord take on a perceived higher risk tenant that they are unable to remove easily for no extra in rent?
That is a rhetorical question as the notion that the private landlord will carry on rehousing over 90% and circa 130,000 of the yearly 140,000+ number of single homeless in England once no fault eviction is abolished is an insane posit and within the many cohorts that comprise single homelessness, the rough sleeper is correctly perceived as the highest of high risk tenant. There is simply no way that the PRS will take on such an increased risk without a significant increase in return through higher rent and perhaps this is behind the absurd notion of Shelter in its Home Truths report which demands government increase LHA, the PRS version of housing benefit, to the average private rent figure to prevent the 228,000 estimated new evictions of private renters (alone – see below) once the eviction ban ends on 23 August 2020.
A standard response from all of the so-called ‘experts’ in homelessness when I relate the reality and facts is (a) stop being negative or the shoot the messenger strategy that is shortly followed by, (b) ok smart arse what do you say is the solution. Both are tiresome strategies of deflection and I would much rather relate what these self-proclaimed experts proffer as solutions which are absurd ‘solutions’ revealing their ‘expert’ labels are severely misplaced.
Leaving aside the PRS landlord would want more rent than the average figure for the much higher risk client group that roofless rough sleepers are and will become a much high risk when no fault evictions are banned this demand from Shelter would take average weekly LHA from its £112 figure (DWP) up to the average PRS rent level which is £200 per week in EHS 2018/19 figures. It means government paying the private landlord £6.3 billion per year more in England. The chances of government paying out £6.3 billion more in housing benefit anyone?
IF government is to spend £6.3 billion per year more on homelessness there are far better recipients than private landlords. How many new specific 1-bed properties could be developed with that level of funding is one example. Even better £6.3 billion pa or £121 million per week is far better spent on the support needs of all homeless persons and would be £378 per week in support to the claimed 320,000 homeless persons England has according to Shelter in its 2017 estimate that takes no account of the 541,000 sofa surfers in England as just one example of chronic underestimate. What on earth is Shelter thinking? I rephrase, Is Shelter thinking in the first place, to which the answer is clearly no.
The EHS graphic of 541,000 sofa surfers (see here)
Shelter published its Home Truths report stating 228,000 are at risk of eviction when the eviction ban ends on 23 August – or at least that is what is reported and has become a hugely errant conflation. The 228,000 is just private tenants at risk of eviction not all tenants and so (a) someone in Shelter commissioned this private landlord only research which is telling in itself; and (b) it ignores research from the District Councils Network (DCN) released on 7th May 2020 which reveals that 174,000 housing association and a further 98,000 council tenants are also at risk of eviction for the same reasons. DCN comprises 187 district councils at the frontline of homelessness presentations and of every political hue.
The influence of Shelter and their (undeserved) reputation at homelessness experts was seen in a House of Commons Urgent Questions debate last week on this subject. The opposition parties focused solely on this 228,000 private tenant only figure and did not mention at all the DCN study which found 272,000 SRS tenants at risk and did not once mention any risk of eviction and homelessness to existing social housing tenants.
The clear assumption and inference is that social housing tenants are not at risk of eviction which is absurd, and presumably in the further errant assertion that in the SRS housing benefit meets the rent unlike it does in the PRS. This assertion is extremely errant as the English Housing Survey for 2018/19 released last week revealed that housing benefit does not cover the full rent for 82% of PRS properties YET it does not cover the rents for 46% of all SRS properties too.
Shelter’s myopic, dogmatic and assumption-led strategies regarding solving homelessness are ones devoid of any factual basis or fact-checking and nothing more than populist claptrap of which only Trump and Johnson would approve. The UQ example above reveals that politicians perceive Shelter as experts out of their ignorance of laziness and in doing so all politicians severely let down the estimated 272,000 SRS households, which is everyone in a city the size of Sheffield for context (!!) by blindly following the Shelter expertise alone and errantly assuming this is a total figure of those at risk of eviction.
Last week also saw Polly Neate the chief executive of Shelter appear on BBC Newsnight here asserting that the Everybody In initiative proves we can solve homelessness and all that is lacking is political will. Oh dear!
Firstly, she did say homelessness not rough sleeping or rooflessness and reveals the head of Shelter is either deliberately conflating out of deceit or she does not know the difference between these very different terms. Secondly, the facts of the Everybody In to Everybody Out phase as detailed above reveal this assertion to be nonsense, absurd and devoid of any substantiation. Thirdly, Polly Neate may as well have said we can solve prostitution or world poverty due to a lack of political will which can be stated for any problem. This is the selling of snake oil by Shelter and nothing more, it is hyperbole over fact, it is delusion and deceit writ large.
Other usual suspects (aka housing and homeless ‘experts’)
Shelter also supports the no fault eviction ban despite this guaranteeing MORE homelessness as PRS landlords flee the single homeless market as explained above … as do Homeless Link and Crisis, as do the Labour Party and housing activists, as do the Johnny-come-lately housing and homeless experts of Generation Rent, Acorn and the Centre for Homelessness Impact – who all collectively and individually do not see the inevitable consequence of PRS landlords fleeing the market and creating a huge increase in homelessness demand that the SRS landlords can’t fill even if they wanted to!
The collective myopia of these actors that banning no fault eviction could help the non-homeless private renter denies the obvious adverse fact that such a policy will massive increase the homeless population as the PRS landlord takes flight from rehousing and providing the escape from homelessness that the SRS cannot provide as it does not have the housing capacity. Thankfully two plus two always equals four and numbers do not lie.
The pre-pandemic numbers for single homelessness were the English SRS rehoused 13,000 and the English PRS rehoused 130,000 single homeless households per year. If PRS flight is just 10% and they rehouse 13,000 fewer it means the SRS has to rehouse an additional 13,000 to the 13,000 it traditionally does making 26,000 and DOUBLE what they ordinarily have done. IF the banning of no fault eviction sees 20% PRS flight it means they rehouse 26,000 fewer single homeless and SRS needs to rehouse 39,000 and TRIPLE what it ordinarily does.
Numbers do not lie, they just expose the utter innumeracy of the housing and homeless ‘experts’ and their crass superficial thinking as they all want to believe that banning no fault evictions must be a good thing.
Just as absurd as Shelter in terms of solution is Crisis who have engaged barristers to draft a temporary draft Bill (pdf) that would see anyone who approaches their local council as homeless would be guaranteed housing for 12 months
A “Home for All” or similar assertions that housing is a human right or similar – a moral assertion not a legal one is behind this perversity – which are regularly asserted and Crisis has a strap line and mission statement called “let’s end homelessness together” this draft Bill reveals that Crisis know yet do not want to inform the public that legal precedence such as Court of Appeal decision in Hotak exists that essentially denies all but the most extremely vulnerable a right to be housed. If you have slept rough before you can do so again is a crude yet valid statement of homeless law in England and there is no such thing as a right to be housed under English law as the higher courts have determined.
However, the idiocy of the Crisis draft Bill was exposed a week or so ago when the English Housing Survey (EHS) for 2018/19 was released. This is a yearly publication of official data and for the first time in its long history it quantified the number of sofa surfers at 541,000 per year. This is seismic data and that horrible phrase a ‘game-changer!’ The sofa surfer is another homeless cohort and essentially a lodger who critically can be evicted with a 7-day notice and no need for a court to effect such an eviction. Sofa surfing is a very precarious form of homelessness and the 386,000 single households and 155,000 family households who sofa-surf are in temporary homeless provision and require a rehousing solution to end their precarious state of homelessness.
Imagine you or someone you know is sofa surfing and a new Bill comes into force to say that if you present to your local council as homeless you will be given a property, or imagine if you are one of the 541,000 households which have somebody sleeping on your sofa too. This is the essence of the Crisis draft Bill and would see a stampede of 541,000 new homeless cases would be banging on their council’s door wouldn’t they!
As well as adding 386,000 to the single homeless number and 155,000 to the family homeless number in this breakdown of the 541,000 sofa surfer total (and noting that neither Shelter or Crisis or any other homeless actor has mentioned this figure!) a striking issue was revealed in the annex tables of this EHS data.
Less than 8% of these 541,000 homeless households were known to their local authorities as more than 92% of them or some half a million had NOT spoken to their local council to seek help over their homeless state. All local authorities are duty-bound (compelled in law) to produce a housing strategy which includes homelessness and even when they do not have any LA housing stock and given that LAs are unaware of 92% of sofa surfers all such housing and homeless strategy documents are huge understatements of housing and rehousing need and essentially not worth the paper they are written on.
The EHS data on sofa surfers is seismic and adds far more to the homeless numbers for England than the pandemic and the recession combined will do. IF all of the 228,000 PRS tenants at risk (Shelter) plus the 272,000 SRS tenants at risk (DCN) which coincidentally sum 500,000 of known households present as homeless it is still less than the 541,000 sofa surfers who would also present to their local council as homeless under the proposed Crisis draft Bill.
Reader please spare some pity for the local authority homeless department workers as this combined 1,041,000 increase in homeless presentations would give all 331 English local councils, from the smallest to the largest, an average queue of 3,145 homeless families all seeking to get their lawful right to a new house as per the draft Bill of Crisis. If each of these 1,041,000 new homeless cases kept to a 2 metre physical distance of each other it would mean the average English local council would have a 6,290 metre or 4 mile long queue outside its homeless department!
Crisis in their 2017 Moving On report stated the official figure of 13,000 single homeless each year are rehoused by the English SRS. For the last few years Crisis has been the prime mover and zealous promoter of the Housing First model as the cure for single homelessness. Prior to the EHS research last week England had 140,000 single homeless households each year which the EHS adds 386,000 to that making 526,000 single homeless households per year. Each of these need a 1-bed rehousing solution to escape homelessness which means England has to find 526,000 1 bedded properties.
The Housing First model, as its name suggests, seeks to get the housing bricks, mortar and roof first and then deal with the complex support needs of single homeless persons. If you believed my 4-mile queue outside each LA homeless department was flippant you will not like the analogy that there is more chance of Accrington Stanley winning the European Cup than the Housing First model finding 526,000 yearly or 10,000 x 1-bedded properties per week for the Housing First model!!
Crisis like Shelter are given far too high a reputation for expertise by politicians. The all party select committee at HCLG took evidence from Jon Sparkes chief executive of Crisis who said on 5th May the number of roofless accommodated as part of the Eberybody In initiative was more than the then government assertion of 5000 and it was 5,500 – 6,000 in number. The HCLG committee published this on 21 May as fact and took that Crisis estimate hook, line and sinker in their Interim Report here.
A week or so later the government was forced to admit it was the 15,000 figure in a Louise Casey article and then a further week late with data from 302 of 331 English local authorities I reveal above with the parliamentary written answer of Luke Hall. That is a chronic lack of necessary scrutiny by the HCLG committee and the same issue of politicians choosing to believe the Shelter PRS-only tenant eviction risk figure and say nothing at all in the UQ debate of 272,000 social housing tenants at imminent risk of eviction and homelessness in the DCN report of 5 May and which the HCLG select committee very convenientlyu ignored.
In summary, the notion that we can solve rooflessness never mind homelessness in England is a known fallacy and those ‘experts’ who say it is within our reach are delusional snake oil sellers or in lay and less tactful language bullshit merchants.
ALL of the evidence, ALL of the facts and ALL contexts reveal we do not have a hope in hell’s chance of ending rough sleeping (i.e. rooflessness) let alone ending the much wider homelessness we have in England. That is not a polemically assertion or being negative or scaremongering, its is offensive regrettable fact and the ONLY conclusion that can be arrived at from the facts and contexts we have – the same facts and same contexts that the homeless ‘experts’ refuse to see or consider in their obstinate deluded hope they profess at every turn. There is no fine line here between wanting something to happen and expressing optimism that it should happen or there is a moral imperative that it must happen.
All we have from the so-called ‘experts’ is blatant and known deceit in their dogma and in their proposed solutions which are as absurd and perverse as it gets and simply have no chance of working even in theory let alone reality or practice. While politicians of all parties steadfastly refuse to put claims and assertions of Shelter, Crisis and the rest to any scrutiny whatsoever we have a massive deficit of democracy in our political system.
Ending homelessness? … Oh do behave yourself!!