Mark Prisk worked with charity Crisis on their plan to end Britain's homelessness problem within 10 years.
The plan - which is published on 11 June - is comprehensive, evidence-based and independently costed. It includes advice on how people at risk of becoming homeless can remain in their homes, and how to ensure there is sufficient housing for those who are already homeless.
In light of its publication, Mark wrote the following article in the Bishop's Stortford Independent.
How can we end homelessness?
In an attractive town like Bishop’s Stortford it would be easy to assume that everyone has a secure roof over their head. Yet all too many do not. They have to turn to friends, the council, the YMCA or our local churches to help them out.
Nationally the problem is far worse, yet often people aren’t clear what homelessness means and how it’s best tackled. Over the last year or so I have served on an expert panel, advising Crisis, the charity dedicated to tackling homelessness. They’ve now published their report.
The nature of homelessness isn’t simple. It peaked for example in 2003, not at the bottom of the recession in 2009-10. It is now rising, despite record employment. So it’s not led by the economic cycle.
As a former Housing Minister, I’ve learnt that tackling homelessness means dealing with its underlying causes. This might be addiction. It might be a sudden job loss or a breakdown in key relationships. Debt is also a frequent cause, as are some short-term tenancies. So to end homelessness we need to tackle its underlying causes.
The Crisis report sets out some common sense principles. First that we should switch to focusing on prevention, with Government funding councils to intervene much earlier in people’s lives – mediating family breakdown; intervening early to overcome addictions; taking a different approach to sorting out debt problems.
The Government has committed to providing one billion pounds in tackling homelessness, and much of that money is following this principle of funding preventative work.
The second principle is to end rough sleeping altogether. This is the most visible and dangerous form of homelessness. To tackle it we should adopt a tried and tested approach known as Housing First, which has worked in other countries and which combines provision of permanent housing with long-term high quality support to overcome their often complex needs. It’s demanding of those it helps, but it works. Several pilot projects are underway and I shall be pressing for these to be expanded to all our urban centres.
Third, we need to get everyone housed. That means providing more homes that people can afford to live in. That means building more low-cost homes, but also making best use of the existing housing stock; ending an over-reliance on temporary accommodation; ensuring that Housing Benefit levels reflect actual local housing costs and modernising the private rented sector.
These are three of the key principles which the Crisis report sets out. It has clear measures for the short, medium and longer term. Whilst many reflect challenges in our cities, some measures have real implications for us locally.
I am pleased to say that Ministers are actively working with Crisis and other homeless charities to bear down on homelessness and its causes, in all their forms. There is a long way to go, but I feel we are now heading in the right direction.
To find out more, go to www.crisis.org.uk and search for the End Homelessness report.