As housebuilding figures show a sharp drop-off in the number of “starts” by housing associations, a critical report has been published by the National Housing Federation and Shelter. They claim that the government is not doing enough to get more homes built, a situation that appears to be borne out by today’s figures.
The report is also interesting because of its sections on homelessness, a phenomenon which appears to be on the rise after many years of welcome decline. Rising homelessness was one of the most negative elements of the Thatcher administration in the 1980s; is it making an unwelcome comeback?
That the figures are moving the wrong way is not necessarily the coalition’s fault, given the financial turmoil of recent years: the government itself has called it the “legacy of the recession“. Grant Shapps, housing minister, has given £20m to a “homelessness transition fund” and £10m for single homeless people.
So what can we read from the data?
1] Households recognised by councils as “statutory homeless” have risen by 27 per cent to since the general election, a statistic accepted by ministers in their own “Housing Strategy”. The figure was 12,830 for the last quarter of 2011. (That, to be fair, is far below the 35,000 reached in 2003).
2] The number of households in temporary accommodation has remained stable at around 48-49,000 since the coalition was formed. (Again this is less than half the 101,300 peak in late 2004.)
3] Rough sleepers, the most visible form of homelessness, has also risen sharply. (Although figures for this are not precise). Last autumn there were 2,181 people sleeping rough, up from 1,768 from 2010 – according to DCLG’s own statistics. (This may also be lower than a decade ago, though the report doesn’t make it clear.)
A new homelessness strategy will be published by a ministerial working group later this year. For now ministers can take some satisfaction from the fact that the trend is still much lower than during the “boom times”; but there is no room for complacency. The report warns that the recent increase in rough sleepers is “deeply troubling” and could be “exacerbated” by further cuts to housing benefit in 2013. Some believe the story in April about Newham council trying to find accommodation for tenants on the other side of the country may just be a foretaste.