Next year will see the 40th anniversary of the 1977 Housing (Homeless Persons) Act.
This Act gave councils a legal duty to house homeless people who meet certain ‘priority need’ criteria. This legislation has saved tens of thousands of people from the devastation of homelessness over the decades.
Though a huge step forwards, the bill did not end homelessness. Every week I see local residents who are either threatened by or have experienced homelessness, and each story is heart-breaking.
Councils are working hard to do the best that they can in difficult circumstances. But we have a housing crisis in England, and the current legislation allows too many people to go without the help that most of us would expect to be there should we have the misfortune to be threatened with homelessness. So it is time to look again at the Homeless Persons Act passed all those years ago.
The law as it stands means that in order to qualify for meaningful help, homeless people must be deemed to be in ‘priority need’. In practical terms, this covers only families with children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities. But large numbers of people fall outside these categories and therefore receive advice, but not more practical support. Homelessness in England is rising at the moment – more than 8,000 people slept rough in London alone last year, more than double the rate since 2010.
And so the Select Committee on which I sit in Parliament has taken the decision to endorse a new Private Members’ Bill. Tabled by a fellow committee member and with cross-party sponsors including myself, the ‘Homelessness Reduction Bill’ could finally put an end to a legal situation that means homeless people can be turned away when they go to their council for help. Council budgets are also the subject of severe cuts, so new obligations must come with the resources to deliver and I will hold the government to account for this. But we can’t stand by while the devastation of homelessness affects so many in our communities.