Kerslake Commission: “This is a pivotal moment – act now or risk a surge in homelessness”
An influential independent group of cross-party politicians and experts from the health, housing and homelessness sectors has urged the Government to act quickly and decisively to avoid a surge in rough sleeping.
If it does not take action, it will risk losing the progress made in the sector during the pandemic, and will fail to achieve its key manifesto promise to end rough sleeping by 2024.
The warning comes as the Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping publishes its second and final report entitled A New Way of Working: Ending Rough Sleeping Together today (23 September).
The independent Commission – convened in March 2021 – analysed the cross sector response to Covid-19, and the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative which saw local authorities directed to move people who were sleeping rough into emergency accommodation to protect them from the virus.
Its final report, which has been described as ‘…the most comprehensive and collaborative piece of research on homelessness and rough sleeping’, concludes that without urgent action the benefits and lessons learned from the joint working during the pandemic will be wasted, and the number of people having to sleep on the streets will rise again.
The stark assessment comes as the pandemic support measures – including the £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit and the furlough scheme are due to end. This, coupled with rises in energy prices, inflation and National Insurance, is likely to put more and more people at risk of homelessness.
Incorporating the findings of its interim report released in July which looked in detail at the costs and benefits of funding rough sleeping provision and prevention and recommended increased investment and longer-term funding, the Commission’s final report makes 12 key recommendations which it says must be actioned if the positives achieved during the pandemic are not to be lost.
- The Government, through its new Inter-Ministerial Group on rough sleeping, should set out its overarching vision, by developing a longer term rough sleeping strategy which builds on the successes of Everyone In and the lessons learnt. And that this Group, through the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, should report annually on its performance
- The £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift, which made such a positive difference to those who could barely afford their homes before the pandemic, and therefore helping them to avoid the threat of imminent rough sleeping should be maintained
- Increasing joint working by all agencies and organisations involved with homelessness by extending the Homelessness Reduction Act’s Duty to Refer, to make it a Duty to Collaborate with relevant public agencies, including health, the Department of Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice, to both prevent and respond to homelessness
- Ensuring that the quality of accommodation provided to those who are homeless and vulnerable is safe, decent and appropriate, by introducing a Quality Assurance framework for homelessness accommodation, with a national register that requires evidence that providers are meeting minimum standards as a condition of registration
- Helping to ensure that non-UK nationals who are sleeping rough, or at risk of doing so, have some protection, by establishing a clear policy position that limiting access to benefits for non UK nationals should stop short of causing destitution
- Reducing the reliance on communal shelters through Local Authorities, in partnership with homelessness organisations, by improving planning in relation to extreme cold or severe heat – and other emergencies – and the provision for people sleeping rough during these times
The report will be officially launched at an event at the Headquarters of the Local Government Association this afternoon, which will be attended by politicians and leading experts in the homelessness and health sectors, including those with lived experience of homelessness.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Commission Chair Lord Kerslake said: “The starting point for this report was learning from the success of the Everyone In initiative.
What has emerged from the review is a comprehensive understanding of what it will take to bring an end to rough sleeping. The analysis has been fully endorsed and embraced by experts across the sector and the political spectrum which is I think unprecedented.
“There is no single thing which can be done to end homelessness. It must be about both housing and health. What is needed is a series of actions covering prevention, early response, and new provision. If this is done we know what can be achieved – we have seen it in action over the past 18 months.
“But without decisive and urgent action, backed with appropriate funding ‘Everyone In’ risks becoming a footnote in the history of the battle to end homelessness.
“So many people are struggling financially, and the withdrawal of the pandemic support measures, coupled with the rise the cost of living risks a new surge in rough sleeping and homelessness.
“This is a pivotal moment. The Government can take positive action, follow these recommendations and maximise its opportunity to change the future not only for those who experienced homelessness during the pandemic, but for generations to come.
“Or it can delay, watch as homelessness surges again, and rue what could have been.”
The Kerslake Commission’s Advisory Board was made up of 21 members including experts with lived experience.
Board member Charlotte Bates from Expert Citizens, said: “I never expected to experience homelessness in my life, but when I did I was in crisis and I found it impossible to navigate the system which was designed to help me.
“It highlighted to me the gap between best intentions and poor execution. Listening to and being guided by lived experience is crucial to bridging that gap, and ensuring we provide the best possible support to people who are homeless.
“It’s been a privilege to bring this experience to the Kerslake Commission. It’s not always about working harder, but working better. Seeking and valuing the contribution of people with lived experience has been profound and vital. And I hear those voices – as well as my own – captured in the evidence, direct quotes and sentiments throughout the report.
“At the heart of the Advisory Board has been a desire to do better. We wanted to create a piece of work that wasn’t just a report but something that would inform lasting change on the ground.”
Leading homelessness charity St Mungo’s provided the secretariat support to the Commission.
St Mungo’s Chief Executive Steve Douglas CBE, who advised the Commission said: “The levels of engagement and support we have received from organisations and individuals, including those with lived experience of homelessness, and more than 100 submissions of evidence, is a testimony to the wide spread consensus that there is to end rough sleeping and we thank everyone who has contributed their time, knowledge and expertise.
“Their input, and the expert chairing of Lord Kerslake over the past six months, has led to this detailed report and its practical and achievable set of recommendations which, if acted upon, will make a significant contribution to ending street homelessness.”
The Kerslake Commission was convened in March 2021 to examine the lessons from the public health emergency response to rough sleeping during the pandemic, and to understand how the significant progress made can be embedded in the longer term.
According to Government estimates, at least 37,000 people were provided with a Covid-secure place to stay, along with access to health and other support services during Everyone In, and the policy has been credited as having saved hundreds of lives.
The Kerslake Commission received evidence submissions from Local Authorities, from people with lived experience of homelessness and of sleeping rough, as well as from and health, housing and homelessness organisations. It also commissioned two literature reviews into the emergency Covid-19 response.
To find out more about the work of the Commission visit www.commissiononroughsleeping.org