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Government has ability to make end of rough sleeping permanent if it wants, MPs say

Housing, communities, and local government committee says pandemic is 'golden opportunity' 

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Friday 22 May 2020 07:29 BST
Johnson vows to make ‘big dent’ in numbers of rough sleepers

The government's decision to end rough sleeping during the coronavirus pandemic could be made permanent with the right financial commitment and strategy, a cross-party parliamentary committee has said.

MPs on the housing and communities committee said it was "feasible" for the current situation to become "the new norm" if the government took the right action, with the progress made during the pandemic a "golden opportunity".

90 per cent of rough sleepers have been given accommodation during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, with many put up in hotels and temporary accommodation.

The committee's report says the government needs to spend £100m per year – a relatively modest sum in budget terms – on long-term housing support to make the change a reality.

It also says the government should improve its support to councils for people with "no recourse to public funds" – currently a consequence of their immigration status – "or hundreds will return to the streets with potentially disastrous consequences".

The MPs, from all the major parties, say there are "humanitarian grounds" for such a change.

Their report also recommends that councils need to be given "targeted grant funding" to acquire temporary accommodation so that "rough sleepers do not end up back on the street due to lack of suitable housing".

But they also warn that the situation will deteriorate rapidly as renters struggle to pay back arrears accrued during the pandemic if the government does not act.

The report says the government's current approach to dealing with renters "will be toothless and will fail to prevent a cliff edge of evictions once the moratorium on possession cases ends".

Rough sleeping has risen sharply since 2010 to a record high, after sustained falls during the last Labour government.

Clive Betts, chair of the committee said: “We must praise the efforts of all those who have done so much to help take people of the streets during the current health emergency, but what happens next is crucial. It is simply not good enough for anyone to leave temporary accommodation and end up back on the streets. This isn’t just about protecting vulnerable people from Covid-19. It is not safe to live on the streets in any circumstances and it is not acceptable to allow it to return once the health crisis abates.

“In our report we have called on the Government to grasp the golden opportunity that has presented itself. For the first time in over a decade, rough sleepers have been comprehensively taken off the streets and given accommodation. This must become the new norm.

He added: “As it stands there are two main risks that need to be addressed if the current low levels of rough sleeping are to continue. Firstly, the Government needs to fund a comprehensive housing-led exit strategy for those currently being housed in short term accommodation during the Covid-19 crisis, which we estimate will cost around £100m a year.

"Secondly, the Government needs to amend legislation to ensure those in the private rented sector who have been caught up in the economic fallout of the pandemic are not evicted when the freeze on eviction proceedings ends.

"There can be no question that we have to ensure no one is forced to live on the streets, we now expect the Government to put this achievable goal into long-term reality."

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