Keep England rough sleeping scheme or face surge, ministers told

England faces a surge of people being forced to sleep on the streets if the government scraps the scheme introduced to tackle the problem during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by an influential group of independent experts.

In an intervention timed to put pressure on ministers ahead of the autumn spending review, the Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping warned them their only chance of keeping their promise to end rough sleeping by the end of this parliament was to maintain the additional £82m a year in funding.

That figure represents a “drop in the ocean” compared with the cost of working on long-term homelessness, Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service who chairs the commission behind the report, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The homelessness charity St Mungo’s contributed to the report. Its chief executive, Steve Douglas, warned of a loss of momentum if ministers withdrew the additional funding and support recently made available.

“We at St Mungo’s have seen the tangible positive difference that the work since the start of the pandemic has had on people experiencing homelessness, and we know it has saved hundreds of lives. We must not lose that momentum as we transition from lockdown,” he said.

“Right now we have a real opportunity to make our shared aim of ending rough sleeping a reality. We must take it.”

Lord Kerslake said the initial success of the government’s Everyone In programme, under which ministers directed English councils to find somewhere for every person sleeping rough to stay during the pandemic’s first wave, had shown the way forward.

“If we fail to learn the lessons of Everyone In, all the signs from the commission’s work are that the situation will get worse, not better, and homelessness and rough sleeping will increase,” he said. “That would be an enormous lost opportunity for the government to deliver on its rough sleeping commitment, and a personal tragedy for those affected.”

Ministers have claimed that at least 37,000 people were given a place to stay, access to health and other support services under Everyone In.

But the commission said councils and charities were predicting an increased flow of people on to the streets as the winter months approached. They blamed that on ministers’ insistence that some people be given no recourse to public funds because of their immigration status and limited places available to house people.

The experts recommended maintaining other portions of the government’s response, including the £20 a week universal credit increase, which ministers are threatening to remove, and the slightly higher cap on local housing allowance. While the recommendations directly relate only to England, the commission said it hoped the devolved administrations would follow suit.

The commission received more than 100 evidence submissions from people with lived experience of homelessness and of sleeping rough and from local authorities, as well as from and health, housing and homelessness organisations.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Our decisive action through the internationally recognised Everyone In scheme has protected thousands of rough sleepers throughout the pandemic. We’re building on that success with the backing of an unprecedented £750m investment this year – giving rough sleeping and health services the funding they need to help get people off the streets and into settled accommodation.”

The Kerslake commission was set up to examine the lessons from the public health emergency response to rough sleeping during the pandemic. It published its interim report on Tuesday and expects the full work to be released in September.

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