Theresa May has declared her aim to help homeless people “turn their lives around” as the Government launched a £100 million plan to end rough sleeping on England’s streets.
The strategy was welcomed by homelessness charities, who said it was a significant step towards meeting the Conservative manifesto commitment to halve rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament and eliminate it by 2027.
However, they warned it will not provide a “total fix” for homelessness, which would require a significant increase in social housing, more security for renters and the reversal of policies which leave migrants homeless.
The new strategy, revealed by Communities Secretary James Brokenshire on Saturday ahead of its official launch on Monday, will offer support with mental health and addictions as well as help with accommodation.
Speaking an Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Brokenshire said half the cash had already been committed to rough sleeping and the other half was "reprioritised" from existing budgets in his department.
He also denied Government policies were behind a rise in homelessness, as identified by independent organisations such as the National Audit Office.
However, the minister did appear to commit to reviewing the impact of welfare policies, such as the Universal Credit system, on homelessness.
The Government's plan is based on a three-pronged approach of prevention, intervention and recovery, it focuses on efforts to stop people becoming homeless in the first place, with swift, targeted support to get those in crisis off the streets and into long-term housing.
The strategy includes £50 million for homes outside London for people ready to move on from hostels or refuges and £30 million for mental health support for rough sleepers.
A new network of specialist “navigators” will help rough sleepers access services and accommodation.
There will be training for frontline staff on how to help people under the influence of artificial cannabinoid Spice.
Ministers are also expected to review legislation on homelessness and rough sleeping, including the Vagrancy Act, which dates back to 1824 and still makes it illegal to sleep rough or beg in England and Wales.
Around 4,751 people are estimated to sleep rough on any given night in England.
Mrs May said: “Nobody should have to sleep rough and that’s why we must do all we can to help the most vulnerable in our society get the support they need.
“But 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.”
In a joint statement, seven homelessness charities who advised on the strategy said it would “make a real difference to people’s lives”.
However, the charities – Crisis, Homeless Link, National Housing Federation, Shelter, St Basil’s, St Mungo’s and Thames Reach – warned: “For the strategy to work, the Government 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.
“This must include plans to build significantly more social housing, to foster greater security for renters, to ensure people have access to benefits and other support they need to help them keep their homes.
“We also need to see a reversal of policies that leave migrants homeless and destitute, and healthcare, mental health and substance misuse services that are available and truly accessible to those who need it.”
The chief executive of St Mungo’s outreach, hostel and recovery service, Howard Sinclair, said: “Rough sleeping is harmful, dangerous and dehumanising and we share the Government’s aim that no-one should have to sleep rough.
“This strategy is a really important first step towards meeting the Government’s 2027 target to end rough sleeping and shows they are serious about understanding the problem and getting the right support to people at the right time.”
Shelter’s chief executive Polly Neate said: “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.”
Labour’s shadow housing secretary John Healey dismissed the strategy as “a feeble plan that lacks any urgency to tackle the crisis of rising rough sleeping”.
Mr Healey said: “The scale of the problem is clear today but the Government’s target means waiting almost a decade to deal with this crisis.
“The funding announced will barely register compared to the reckless Conservative cuts to affordable housing, social security benefits and homelessness services that have caused this crisis.”
Mr Healey said the next Labour government would end rough sleeping within its first term by making 8,000 homes available for people with a history of rough sleeping.
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “People sleeping on the streets because they don’t have a home of their own is a desperate situation and one that needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency.
“If we’re to bring about a lasting end to rough sleeping we need targeted investment in new homes for rough sleepers, a significant increase in homes for social rent overall and a full assessment of the impact of welfare reform on rough sleeping.”
Mr Brokenshire said: “It is simply unacceptable that people have to sleep on the streets and I am determined to make it a thing of the past.”