This is an opportunity to save thousands from homelessness. We must take it.
How does someone become homeless in 21st century England? How does anyone in this day and age end up living in a squat, sleeping in a night shelter or on the street?
There is of course no single simple answer, but there is one fundamental issue that over the decades has consigned tens of thousands of people to the devastation of homelessness: the law does not give everyone proper access to the housing and support they need – particularly if they are without dependent children.
Too often people who approach their council as homeless and in desperate need are turned away. Last year, we sent ‘mystery shoppers’ – people with real experience of homelessness – to 16 local authorities across England. In over half of the visits (50 out of 87) they received little or no help, even though they said they had nowhere to sleep that night.
And so it is that we see young people not helped by their council when they most need it. They end up homeless again and again. The average age of death for a homeless person in this country is just 47. Homeless people are 13 times more likely to be victims of violence, seven times more likely to take their own life.
With this terrible human toll there is a financial cost for us all to bear: We’ve found that tackling homelessness early could save the taxpayer between £3,000 and £18,000 a year for every person saved from the horrors of homelessness.
But homelessness in England is still on the rise. The Autumn 2014 counts and estimates suggested there were 2,744 rough sleepers on any one night in England – a rise of 55 per cent from Autumn 2010, when the figure was 1,768. Only today we learned that the number of households accepted as homeless by councils this quarter has risen by four per cent compared to the same quarter last year.
In the face of this emergency, Crisis has long called for change. Our No One Turned Away campaign has attracted more than 50,000 who back a change in the law and we also set up an independent expert review panel to look in detail at the best options for legal reform.
And today the Government has responded. Homelessness Minister Marcus Jones has said that they are exploring legal options to better protect people from homelessness.
And so an opportunity to go to the root of the problem has opened up. A change in the law to properly protect everyone that needs help would be a fundamental step towards ending homelessness in England.
I applaud the Government for listening to our No One Turned Away campaigners and making this announcement today. We now ask that our independent panel be allowed to work alongside government to help get a new legal framework in place.
This is a chance to save thousands from homelessness. We must now make the most of it.