COVID exposed true extent of rough sleeping crisis, says PAC

By William Eichler | 17 March 2021

MPs have raised serious questions about the Government’s homelessness strategy after the pandemic exposed the number of people sleeping rough was much higher than Whitehall estimates.

A new report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found that the Government's Everyone In initiative helped around 37,430 people into accommodation by January 2021.

However, that number was nearly nine times the Government's last official estimate of people sleeping rough.

The PAC report said the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) still did not have a plan for achieving or maintaining its 2019 election commitment to end rough sleeping by May 2024.

Chair of the PAC, Meg Hillier, said: 'The Everyone In initiative has exposed the scale of the task the Ministry of Housing faces to meet the Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping in three years.

‘Rough sleeping was a massive public health issue long before the pandemic and much larger than Government has previously publicly acknowledged.

'MHCLG now has a huge opportunity to capitalise on this success in the pandemic response, and begin to reverse its long record of failed and abandoned housing targets and policies.

The PAC report also questioned whether funding of local authorities was adequate to cope with the homelessness crisis.

Housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, Cllr David Renard, said: ‘The funding provided by government to tackle rough sleeping has been vital, but if councils are to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place short-term reactive pots of funding need to be replaced by long-term funding issued through multi-year settlements to give councils the certainty they need to plan local services.’

A government spokesperson said: 'We reject the unfounded criticisms in this report - we have always been clear that the annual count represents the number of rough sleepers on a single night and this report misuses different data to provide an inaccurate picture.

'We’re providing more than £700m this year and £750m next year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, and are working with partners to learn any lessons from the pandemic and update our ambitious plans to end rough sleeping for good.'

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