Government must act now on rough sleeping

The Kerslake Commission has made 12 recommendations to the government as part of its final report on tackling rough sleeping after the coronavirus pandemic.

The Commission, which is chaired by Lord Bob Kerslake, a former head of the civil service, recommends that the government develop a long-term, cross-departmental rough-sleeping strategy, accompanied by an annual review of performance, in order to meet its goal of ending rough sleeping by the end of this parliamentary term.

Kerslake also suggests that the government should combat ‘local variation’ in homelessness support by commissioning ‘tripartite’ reviews of performance in homelessness services, which could involve joined-up performance management between local authorities, local delivery partners and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

As part of this, councils would need to produce integrated homelessness and health strategies, as well as rapid rehousing plans, which will require a local assessment of need based on a standardised methodology set by the government.

Amongst the other recommendations, the commission says that government should maintain the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and boost to Local Housing Allowance rates introduced during the pandemic, bring about a change of government policy to ensure that restricting non-UK nationals’ access to benefits stops short of causing destitution, and extend the duty to refer to include a number of other government departments, including the Department of Health and Social Care and the Home Office.

Lord Kerslake said: “There is no single thing which can be done to end homelessness. It must be about both housing and health. What is needed is a series of actions covering prevention, early response, and new provision. If this is done, we know what can be achieved – we have seen it in action over the past 18 months.”

James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Getting thousands of rough sleepers off the streets into safe accommodation at the start of the pandemic was an incredible achievement by councils, and this important report sets out key recommendations that can help to prevent a new wave of homelessness.

“As we look to return to normality, it is essential we build on the success of the Everyone In initiative and make sure it is not just a one-off emergency response. Supporting those who are vulnerable can only succeed with sector-wide working at a local level, with health, housing associations and the voluntary sector working closely together.

“Councils stand ready to work with government to realise its ambition of ending rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. For that to happen, the government must use the forthcoming Spending Review to announce a cross-departmental homelessness prevention strategy. This would need to see councils given the long-term funding required to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place, with welfare changes introduced in the pandemic maintained for as long as they are needed, including the Universal Credit uplift.”

This is the second and final report published by the Kerslake Commission. It was set up in March this year to analyse the government’s Everyone In initiative, which ordered councils to find accommodation for all rough sleepers in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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