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Monday, March 19, 2018

An inauspicious start for the English Homelessness Minister

Yesterday's Observer carried a feature on South Derbyshire MP, Heather Wheeler, who was appointed as the English Minister for homelessness in January. To be fair there are a number of encouraging signs.

For a start, she is visiting projects in other nations of the UK to see how the devolved governments are coping with the problem. In doing so she recognises that Scotland is in a better position because it has more affordable homes in which to rehouse those in need and accepts that supply is a big obstacle to her brief to meet the Conservative manifesto commitment of halving rough sleeping by 2022, and eradicating it by 2027.

Unfortunately, as I reported here, she appears to be in denial as to whether her government will address this issue. It is all very well citing that the government are spending £9bn on affordable housing by March 2021, however when Communities Secretary Sajid Javid is being forced to “surrender” £72 million set aside to build affordable homes because it was “no longer required”, and when the emphasis is on intermediate housing available at 80% of market rent as opposed to the social rents needed by those escaping homelessness, the prospect of a solution to lack of supply does not look promising.

The other good sign is that Ms. Wheeler is seriously looking at the internationally successful housing first model that places the most entrenched rough sleepers in permanent housing before they deal with addiction, mental illness or other challenges. It works on the assumption that people make the most progress when in a stable home, rather than a hostel or shared temporary accommodation.

My concern though is that she appears to be in denial on all the causes of homelessness. Specifically, she tells the paper that she does not know why the number of rough sleepers has increased so significantly in recent years, adding that she does not accept the suggestion that welfare reforms and council cuts had contributed to the rise. I would add in the austerity agenda that has depressed real wages onto that list as well.

Frankly, if she is serious about achieving her goals then she needs to put this ideology to one side and convince her government colleagues to follow suit. If she doesnt then I suspect that the situation will continue to worsen.
Robbing peter to pay paul (money from social housing to help to buy),usual Tory philosophy, they are more likely to vote for us.
More modular buildings of the bungalow type, cheaper to build could help in giving the homeless a home. Equally like the old prefabs that were constructed after the war but at todays standards. It could be developed further.
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