The Liberal Democrats are committed to doing more to prevent and tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in the UK. We can and must do more to get homeless people off our streets and into permanent accommodation.
As you are aware our manifesto for the 2017 General Election is still being written. However, the Liberal Democrats are calling for a cross-party, national strategy to end homelessness by 2020. We are extremely concerned about the impact of social rent reductions on funding for homeless shelters. We supported an amendment to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill which sought to exempt ‘supported housing’ from these reductions. The Government failed to commit to the exemption, instead suspending the cuts for supported housing for one year only.
The number of people sleeping rough in the UK rose to 4,134 in 2016, which is a 16% increase from the previous year, which in turn saw a 12% increase from the year before. There are many more people who do not show up in these statistics – those who are staying with friends or family members, or living in squats – often in very insecure and inappropriate accommodation. Research by Crisis suggests about 62% of single homeless people are ‘hidden’ and may not show up in official figures. The hidden homeless are often subject to exploitation and risks to personal safety and health are high.
The average age of death for a street homeless person is only 47 years old. The needs of homeless people often extend beyond housing and include physical and mental health needs, and without a permanent address many find it hard to access services, benefits and practical opportunities to find a job, get advice or vote. We are aware that at least four in ten homeless people suffer from mental health problems. The Liberal Democrats believe that mental health is just as important as physical health, and we have made it a priority to deliver equality between the two in the delivery of public services.
We believe that it is a national scandal that so many people are sleeping on the streets in 21st century Britain. By increasing support for homelessness prevention and ensuring proper funding for emergency accommodation, we can end rough sleeping across the country. The Liberal Democrats will also ensure that each local authority has at least one provider of Housing First services, to allow long-term homeless people to live independently in their own homes. The evidence suggests that supporting people and giving them long-term, stable places to stay is far more successful in tackling homelessness than constantly moving them to different temporary accommodation.
One of the main causes of homelessness is the ending of tenancies in the private rented sector. This sector is home for 18% of the population. Private sector rents have become untenably high in many parts of Britain, most notably in London, and many renters are now paying more than half their disposable income in rent. Moving from one rented home to another can be very expensive, with high lettings fees and large deposit requirements. The Liberal Democrats have an ambitious plan in place to tackle the housing crisis, with a view to not only to meet current demand, but also to tackle historic under-supply of homes.
Until we get to grips with the housing crisis and build the homes we need, we are not going to be able to end homelessness. We want to see bold action taken in the next Parliament on housing, and we are proud that the Liberal Democrats are leading the way with plans to do just that.