According to a report in todays Independent newspaper around 280,000 people presented themselves to local Councils as needing a new home in 2013/14, which is a 10% increase on the previous year and 30% on 2009/10. That is the equivalent of a city bigger than Brighton & Hove, the 27th largest city in England and Wales. However despite this rise the official number of families as being assessed as statutory homeless is much lower at 28,000, a figure that the Government claims has not changed substantially in several years. I live in a small neighbourhood within Brighton & Hove known as Hollingdean. When we moved into the area we were told there were 2300 households in total. So the number of people who are homeless on a very precise criteria set using Government regulations, represent 12 communities the size of Hollingdean. Another way of looking at the numbers is that as these households will represent around 65,000 people who literally have no home to call their own or whose home is so inadequate that even the Government recognises the need to rehome them. According to campaigners the reason that there is such a gap between 280,000 people and 28,000 families is that Councils have managed to find solutions for many of these people that avoid them being added to the statutory homelessness list.
My own reflection based on my experience of Brighton & Hove and after talking to people involved more widely who support people who don’t even bother approaching their Council because they have no hope that they will be helped is that need is rising and significantly so. The stories I have heard do point to this increase being linked to Government welfare reforms (something the Government claims is not happening). I have also participated in Partnership activity which is led very effectively by local Government to attempt to address the growing numbers of people experiencing difficulty in their housing and this work was begun precisely because the welfare changes were being predicted. This has been a very successful approach, and perhaps the figures within the Independent article are evidence of this happening on a much wider scale than I can observe.
Whatever the precise ebb and flow and actual cause of the misery impacting these many families, it is clear that not enough attention has been paid by Governments to this issue. Every meeting and task adopted by partnerships such as the one I described focused on helping people avoid homelessness is energy that cannot be focused on improving the health of those who are sick in our communities, or helping to improve the education of community that is already facing challenges in these areas. It is clear that we need the Government to focus on meeting some of these needs, rather than on defending their track record or fighting an election which appears to have been their primary focus for the last 18 months.