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Uncomfortable home truths revealed by NLGN’s latest Leadership Index
Sarah Lawson, Policy Researcher, NLGN, 4 April, 2019

The UK is facing a homelessness crisis; 1 in 200 people in Britain don’t have a place to call home. This shocking statistic is lived out through the stark rise in rough sleeping, widespread insecure housing, and the reality for many families of temporary accommodation becoming an almost permanent cycle.

NLGN’s latest Leadership Index sheds light on this national crisis. One year on from the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA), the Index asked local authority chief executives, leaders and council mayors about their experiences of tackling homelessness. Specifically, the Index explored the impact of Universal Credit; funding to meet obligations within the HRA; and rough sleeping. Three core themes emerged.

1) National legislation must be backed up by a commitment to resource local areas properly
Recent legislation has demonstrated a welcome commitment to tackling homelessness. The HRA places a new duty on councils to take reasonable steps to prevent and relieve homelessness. While local authorities have been supported by £72.2 million from central government to fulfil this duty, this pales into insignificance in the context of a £6.1 billion reduction in local government spend for the period 2015-16 to 2019-20. Our Leadership Index highlights that funding is simply not sufficient. Two thirds of respondents to our survey disagree that they have adequate funding to fulfil the new statutory duty included in the HRA.

2) Councils are unlikely to meet national rough sleeping targets
Amidst a 165 per cent rise in rough sleeping in England since 2010, The Government’s recent Rough Sleeping Strategy includes targets to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eradicate it by 2027. Yet, a concerning four in 10 councils think it is unlikely that they will meet the strategy’s target of eradicating rough sleeping by 2027. This rises to six in 10 among largely urban Metropolitan and London Borough Councils.

3) Universal Credit is increasing levels of homelessness
Finally, few will have missed the widespread issues with Universal Credit since its introduction in 2013, including its links to homelessness. A striking 65 per cent of council leaderships agree that Universal Credit has led to an increase in homelessness in their council’s area. This view is shared across the political spectrum, with 28 per cent of Conservative leaders and council mayors reporting the negative impact of their party’s own welfare reform.

These issues not only affect the quality of people’s lives, they also highlight cracks appearing in the system. Addressing these issues will require action across sectors and all areas of government. As one chief executive put it: “There are long term and systemic issues that have combined to cause the current increase in homelessness. These will be exacerbated if broader public sector services are not funded properly.”

Despite the scale of the challenge, the latest Leadership Index also highlights the ambition and innovation coming from the sector. But the Index also emphasises the increasing pressures faced by councils in a context of significant resource constraints. Central government would be wise to heed the warnings of this collective local voice and act now to support and resource the front line.

NLGN’s Leadership Index is a quarterly survey sent to all chief executives, leaders and council mayors in the UK. It provides insight into the level of confidence on key issues affecting local government. A full report of the results from the April 2019 survey can be downloaded HERE.