Homelessness Policies in the UK and Their Effects

Introduction

The issue of homelessness and poverty in general are alwaswill always be on the forefront of national legislation. Although there have been recent claims from as far back as 2005 that homelessness is in slow decline within the United Kingdom, statistics do not necessarily support these claims. This specific policy analysis will seek to address several foundational questions on the issue of homelessness within the United Kingdom. The focus of this analysis will be to assess the current homelessness situation within the United Kingdom, detail past and present policies and their impact upon the homelessness problem and propose possible solutions to these problems. The key questions that will be answered include:

How many homeless are their in the United Kingdom?
What are current and past policy decisions within this arena?
What are the impact of these policies and their implementation?
What proposed remedies are there to the homelessness situation?
Background

Statistics on the reality of the homelessness situation within the United Kingdom is extremely difficult to assess. The transient nature of the homeless population makes them difficult to track especially with the number of people who sleep in living rooms, squatters, and other times of temporary accommodations. Current the most accurate statistics on homelessness comes from the 1996 Housing Act, which defines “statutory homelessness” or people who apply for homelessness assistance with local authorities and who fit under the current legislative definition of homelessness. Between 2005 and 2006, there has been 193,690 households who have applied for assistance under the Housing Act. From that population only 139,760 were found to be “legally” homeless under the statutory definition (Housing and the Homeless, 2005). The same study found that 93,910 households were under temporary assistance by June of 2006. From statutory homelessness statistics, many politicians have argued that homelessness as an institutional problem is declining. Although these statements are supported by statistics, the reality is that much of homelessness is hidden and unaccounted for. First, there is a large segment of the homeless population who are “rough sleeping”, this can be loosely defined as individuals who are sleeping in public areas and out of doors. Rough sleepers are extremely difficult to track and through last official counts numbers at 502 in London alone (Homelessness, 2005). Another method of tracking homelessness is through supported accommodations, specifically within hostels. The majority of hostels accept the homeless, current figures place supported accommodations at under 47,000 household units (Homelessness Pages, 2006). The most difficult of all of these categories to track are the “hidden homeless”. The majority of these homeless individuals who do not show up in official figures, either because they have never applied for housing before, do not qualify under legal definitions, families that find temporary solutions for this problem, or squatters. The level of hidden homelessness is especially troubling because the inability to accurately measure their number prevents the government from promoting legislation to meet this social problem. The New Policy Institute conducted research on this issue in 2003. They estimated that there are currently anywhere between 310,000 and 380,000 hidden homeless people within the United Kingdom.

Current legislation on homelessness can be accounted for in the Housing Act of 1996 and the Homelessness Act of 2002, both of which attempts to deal with the homelessness. The Housing Act of 1996 was the first official recognition of the homelessness problem. It went as far as to provide a legal “statutory” definition of homelessness and provided specific agendas for housing allocation among the homeless, placing the responsibility of housing assistance upon local authorities. This policy was a major step to recognizing the problem, however it is was extremely ineffective in its intended purpose. As the above statistics indicate, the majority of the homelessness cannot be easily tracked and do not formally submit requests for governmental aid. AT the same time, many homeless were not eligible under the Housing Act and thus were left unaccounted for. National statistics showed that the homeless problem was declining, by the late 1990s, however, the reality of the situation was that the majority of the homeless were merely left unreported. To confront the new challenges posed by the Housing Act, the Homelessness Act of 2002 was passed.

The Homelessness Act has been hailed as a sweeping reform of homelessness and a long term implementation of solutions for this problem. It’s focus has been on placing emphasis on local authorities to review homelessness within their localities, local implementation and review of strategies, and reforms within the framework of how councils themselves allocate housing. Several key changes to the Homeless Act was that it broadened both the definition of homelessness since the Housing Act, and also broadened the responsibilities of local authorities as well. The definition was extended to including those over the age of sixteen, rough sleeping, as well as a formal attempt to find families under temporary housing arrangements. Although this policy has much broader application and resources, it still is an insufficient response to the current state of homelessness. Currently local authorities lack integration with national level agencies to respond to the problems of homelessness, the lack of coordination on a national level with local agencies causes “red-tape” delays that often allow homeless families to be left without aid. Another key area is that this policy lacks support provisions, local authorities do not necessarily have the capacities to assess circumstances and implement an operational strategy to provide temporary and permanently housing for those in need. Finally, the Housing Act does not provide a full implementation methodology for solving local area homelessness because they lack the resources and working knowledge to tackle this problem.

Findings
Current understanding of homelessness is limited because of the inability of government agencies to account for all homeless populations.
Large number of unidentified and unaccounted for homelessness within the UK
Policies within this arena are not specific enough to deal with the current crisis
There is a need for bi-lateral and multi-agency cooperation for progressive problem solving
Local support and operations services are lacking because of resource and knowledge limitations
Preventive measures are not fully implementable, the root problem of homelessness are not being dealt with
Conclusion

The only way to provide for definitive solutions for the homelessness crisis to extend our current understanding of the limits of the homelessness problem. Data collection and definitional analysis of homelessness is severely lacking and progress needs to be made at a local level. While certain policy provisions have been enacted to help this problem, the reality is that the Homelessness Act of 2002 have done little to curb the core problems of homelessness. There are many other policy considerations:

Provide provisions for mult-agency collaboration to provide for a support network between national and local authorities.
Create comprehensive support system for local authorities to operationally provide temporary housing and assistance to those in need.
Create a preventive taskforce to understand core of homelessness within local communities and to operationally eliminate these problems.
References

“Policy and information.” Homeless Link. 25 July 2007 .

” Homelessness Act Implementation.” Homelessness Act 2002. 25 July 2007 .

” Housing and Homelessness.” Homelessness Pages. 25 July 2007 .

” Homelessness Act 2002? Homelessness Pages. 25 July 2007 .

“Local authorities and the homelessness act.” Shelter. 25 July 2007 .