What the Manifestos Say About Homelessness

10 Dec 2019

Emily Cotterill

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General Election Blog

By Emily Cotterill, FOR Cardiff

Tragically rough sleeping is an increasingly prevalent issue for town and city centres and therefore for place managers, with rough sleeper numbers in England increasing by 165% since 2010.

Many place management organisations are involved in strong and effective interventions to support rough sleepers locally. However, it is clear that rough sleeping cannot be prevented or alleviated entirely on the ground.

There is a clear need for rough sleeping and homelessness in general to be addressed and overcome at a national and policy level. This is a huge moral issue which impacts our places as well as our people. The industry calls on all political parties, and the next government, to tackle the matter seriously – with the urgency and compassion it requires.

With this in mind, Emily Cotterill, Project Managers of FOR Cardiff and ATCM's Lead on Rough Sleeping, has evaluated the manifestos of the three main parties to understand their position on this issue.


Prioritising Homelessness & Rough Sleeping

The headline claims of the manifestos are much the same, the Lib Dems and Labour will end rough sleeping within five years and the Conservatives promise the same by the end of the next parliament.

There is a certain amount of political posturing about the rise in rough-sleeping with the Lib Dems dating the rise to the recession in 2008 before their time in government, Labour placing the blame firmly in 2010 and with, what they call the ‘Conservatives’ but which was more accurately the Coalition and the Conservatives not mentioning the rise in rough sleeping and homelessness at all.

The Liberal Democrats are the only of the three main parties to dedicate a section of their manifesto specifically to ending rough sleeping. The full document includes the words homeless or homelessness 6 times with 5 explicit mentions of rough sleeping. Labour rack up 11 mentions of either homelessness or homeless and name check rough sleeping 3 times. The Conservatives mention both terms twice.

The Liberal Democrats and Labour both plan for cross government strategy on homelessness with the Lib Dems promising a ‘cross-Whitehall plan to end all forms of homelessness’ and Labour offering a ‘prime minister led taskforce’ on the matter. The Conservatives make no particular pledges. However, they have already established a cross-departmental Rough Sleeping Initiative in 2018 and it seems logical to assume that this group would continue to exist under a renewed Conservative government. In 2017, the Department for Communities and Local Government was renamed the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government in recognition of the importance of housing in the Government's strategy. 

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Town Centres discusses 'High Street Homelessness' in April 2018

Tackling Homelessness & Rough Sleeping

The Conservatives commit to expanding some of the pilot programmes from their previous government including the respected Housing First scheme and continuing to ‘enforce’ the Homelessness Reduction Act (2017). They offer no further manifesto detail on tackling current homelessness.

The Liberal Democrats also make reference to the Homelessness Reduction Act promising ‘sufficient financial resources’ for local authorities to deliver this. They offer no detail on how much money might be required.

Labour pledge to expand and upgrade hostels although, as with the other parties, they offer little detail on this. They do however make a solid commitment to 8,000 additional homes for people with a history of rough sleeping.


Preventing Homelessness & Rough Sleeping

Universal Credit

The findings of the National Audit Office’s 2017 review of homelessness in England stated that the government had not fully assessed the impact of its welfare reforms on homelessness – despite this the Conservative manifesto promises a continued roll-out of the Universal Credit programme which has been routinely linked with rising levels of homelessness. The Liberal Democrats commit to reforming the system and have challenged one of the major flaws identified by homelessness charities such as Crisis as they pledge to reduce the wait for the first payment from five weeks to five days. The Lib Dems also commit to abolishing the controversial bedroom tax and increasing local housing allowance in line with rents in the local area. Labour commit to entirely scrapping Universal Credit and although the policy detail on their alternative system is limited in the manifesto they do commit to, ‘an emergency package of reforms to mitigate some of the worst features of UC.’

Wider Prevention Measures

Beyond welfare there are a wide range of factors which impact on people becoming homeless and ultimately rough-sleeping, the end of private tenancies is a particular issue but there are many more steps to take to prevent homelessness and rough-sleeping.

The Conservatives do not make any specific claims toward preventing future rough-sleeping, their brief mention of the topic involves initiatives to help people who are currently sleeping rough. Elsewhere they promise a Social Housing White Paper which will set out measures to empower tenants and support the continued supply of social homes – although they offer no further detail on this. The manifesto also pledges to end ‘no fault evictions’ although they provide no detail of how. They also commit to establishing a system of one ‘lifetime deposit’ which will move from property to property with tenants preventing the current situation of a new deposit being made before the previous deposit is released.

The Labour Party explicitly state, ‘we will tackle the wider causes of homelessness’ committing an additional £1 billion a year for council’s homelessness services and a rise in Local Housing Allowance in line with the 30th percentile of local rents, however the manifesto is unclear on what the party understand these causes to be or how they will be tackled. Elsewhere they discuss stronger rights for private tenants and an inflationary cap on rent increases and open-ended tenancies which they say will stop ‘no-fault evictions’.

The Liberal Democrats offer a commitment to exempt those at risk of homelessness from the Shared Accommodation Rate; they also discuss a ‘somewhere safe to stay legal duty’ although the description around where this legal duty will fall is unfortunately lacking; like Labour the Lib Dems discuss limits on annual rent increases (along with longer term tenancies) but don’t provide specific details – they are the only major party not to mention no-fault evictions.

Homelessness continues to be identified by members as a key issue. ATCM will therefore update members following the General Election on the policies we expect to see in the coming months depending on the outcome at the polls.

About Emily
Emily pictured with a 2018 Town and City Management Industry Award for FOR Cardiff's innovative diverted giving scheme Give DIFFerently


Emily Cotterill is the Projects Manager of FOR Cardiff. Emily and the team were successful in winning the 2018 Town and City Management Industry Award for the BID's work around homelessness.

Emily has also excelled as an individual in the industry. During her time at Wincester BID she was recognised as a High Street Hero, winning the ‘Great British High Street Awards Under 25’ category. Her drive to help reduce homelessness makes her an ideal national lead on Rough Sleeping for ATCM.