Homelessness, Wales, and the eyes of the world

Why is the Welsh Government cutting funding for homelessness prevention only one year after implementing ambitious new legislation which attracted worldwide attention?

Last week we saw the strongest evidence yet that the Housing (Wales) Act has influenced thinking across the UK about how best to tackle homelessness.

On Thursday the Department for Communities and Local Government announced what they described as a ‘radical package of measures’ to tackle homelessness in England, including protecting local authorities’ prevention funds, increasing central government funding for homelessness programmes – and, significantly, a review of legislation to examine how to prevent more people from becoming homeless in the first place.

Sounds like Jon Sparkes’ view that Wales is ‘setting an example to the rest of the UK’ is pretty much on the button – so why is prevention funding being cut by 8.1 per cent next year?

It’s not clear yet exactly why the Welsh Government has made the decision. This is money that is meant to go to local authorities to help them manage the transition. The Finance Minister described the 8.1 per cent as a ‘non-recurrent transfer’ – that is, a one-off allocation that isn’t meant to be replicated in subsequent years.

In other words, local authorities are expected to implement these far-reaching changes with a reducing budget.

The trouble is, in reality it takes huge effort and time to create the scale of fundamental change that’s required by the Housing Act.

Removing local connection at the prevention stage?

Developing a Personal Housing Plan with everyone who presents?

Involving people in solving their own housing problems – going against the grain of three decades of process-driven services that were all about administering tests designed specifically to avoid having to help people?

Oh sure, a piece of cake.

Our new report on the first six months of the legislation gives us an early picture of services largely rising to the challenge and managing to successfully prevent homelessness in the majority of cases.

In the last year, our own service helped more people than ever, preventing homelessness in a record 93 per cent of cases where it was faced.

It’s an encouraging start, but it totally relies on resources. If the cut to prevention funds goes ahead, there’s a risk that other homelessness services will have to suffer cuts in turn, so that authorities have sufficient ongoing transitional support.

There’s little point in protecting Supporting People funding while simultaneously cutting other funding that achieves the same aims and often funds the same services.

We need to support local authorities and their partners to deliver this agenda. The homelessness budget is a drop in the ocean compared to health or education – the 8.1 per cent amounts to a mere £524,000 – but the difference it makes to frontline services is immense.

The UK Government’s legislation review will bring academics, campaigners and policymakers flocking to Wales to soak up all the data they can find on the impacts of the Act so far. And not just from England but across Europe and beyond.

If homelessness services don’t have the funding they need to implement what the Welsh Government has required them to do – what kind of data will we have to give them?

And what will that mean for Wales’ international reputation?

London Assembly – Hidden homelessness report