UK

Rough sleeping: £100m government plan to tackle homelessness unveiled

A homeless person outside Victoria Station in London Image copyright PA

The government has unveiled its £100m strategy to tackle rough sleeping on England's streets.

It wants to "help people turn their lives around", including support for mental health and addictions.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire vowed to make homelessness "a thing of the past" and the government has vowed to end rough sleeping by 2027.

But Labour says the plan is already "unravelling" as it's become clear no new money is being invested.

Homelessness has been on the rise for the past seven years, with around 4,750 people estimated to be sleeping rough on any given night in England in 2017.

Charities have welcomed the plan, but warned that it was "a step forward and not a total fix".

The Rough Sleeping Strategy will focus on preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place by offering a range of support.

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But when questioned on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Brokenshire said half of the promised £100m had already been committed to homelessness and rough sleeping, with the other half "reprioritised" from existing budgets in his department.

"There are significant sums of money being focused and targeted," he said. "Half of that has already been committed to homelessness and rough sleeping.

"The other remaining half of this is money that's new to rough sleeping and homelessness, reflecting and recognising the priorities and importance of taxes."

He also denied that government policies were behind the rise in homelessness.

'Lacks urgency'

Shadow housing secretary John Healey said: "The government's rough sleeping plan has unravelled just hours after it was announced. It's now clear there is no additional money for the housing department to tackle the crisis of rough sleeping.

"Rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010 thanks to decisions made by Tory ministers, but this feeble plan lacks any urgency."

He added that the next Labour government would end rough sleeping within its first term by making 8,000 homes available to those with a history of sleeping on the streets.

And Sarah Jones, shadow housing minister, said she was "shocked" it was not new money.

What will the money be spent on?

About £30 million will be spent on mental health help and treatment for substance misuse as part of the proposals, which were developed in conjunction with charities and experts.

This will include training for staff on how to help people affected by the illegal drug Spice - a synthetic cannabinoid that 90-95% of homeless people in Manchester are estimated to use.

In addition, the government will put about £50m towards homes outside London for those who are ready to move on from hostels or refuges.

Rough sleepers will also be helped to access services and accommodation by a network of specialist "navigators".

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Media captionA rough sleeper tells the BBC what it's like on the streets

'Tackle the root causes'

Seven homelessness charities - Crisis, Homeless Link, National Housing Federation, Shelter, St Basils, St Mungo's and Thames Reach - who advised ministers on the strategy said in a joint statement that it was "a significant step towards the government's goal of ending rough sleeping by 2027".

However, they added that ministers "must also set out bold, cross-departmental plans to tackle the root causes of all forms of homelessness and prevent it from happening in the first place".

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Media captionHilary Burkitt from Shelter on the government's new plan

Polly Neate, chief executive of charity Shelter, said: "This strategy is an important step forward in the fight against the rough sleeping emergency that's led to people dying on our streets.

"But let's be clear, this is a step forward and not a total fix for homelessness.

"We still need to tackle the chronic lack of genuinely affordable homes, deep instability of renting and problems with housing benefit that are leaving so many without a home."

She called for a plan "to build many more social homes" and "efforts to create real security for those struggling with their rent".

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes told Today: "They're intervening in the right way - more outreach work, mental health support and so on.

"But of course, it's not tackling the root causes of homelessness and indeed rough sleeping. Which are that we don't have enough social houses, we have a welfare system which doesn't cover the cost of housing and there are huge groups of people excluded from the system altogether."

'Underlying problems'

Ministers are also expected to review legislation on homelessness and rough sleeping, including the Vagrancy Act - which currently makes it illegal to sleep rough or beg in England and Wales.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: "We recognise this is a complex issue - as well as ensuring people have somewhere to live, we have to deal with underlying problems and ultimately help people turn their lives around."

"It is simply unacceptable that people have to sleep on the streets and I am determined to make it a thing of the past," added Mr Brokenshire.

Local Government Association chairman Lord Porter said the strategy was "a positive first step" but added: "We must go much further, much faster.

"Rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg - right now, councils are currently housing over 79,000 homeless families and 123,000 children in temporary housing.

"Councils want to end all homelessness by preventing it from happening in the first place."

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