Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Tackling the ugly truth of hidden homelessness

Temporary accommodation should be a valuable lifeline, but in too many cases what should be support is in fact squalor, writes Rosie Corrigan



This month marks one year on from the election of the first metro mayors: Andy Burnham, Ben Houchen, Steve Rotheram and Andy Street.

Encouragingly, two of the four have identified tackling homelessness as a priority. This is important because homelessness is a crisis which continues to see people left behind and forgotten at what is the most frightened and vulnerable point in their life.

When asked what we mean by homelessness, many of us will think of rough sleeping ­– a problem that exists and is growing – nothing short of shameful for a developed nation in 2018. But what we often forget it that rough sleeping is one small facet of what is a wider reaching and complex problem than we often perceive.

A recent report by the Justlife Foundation, a Manchester based charity working to prevent homelessness and to support those who are homeless, has shone a glaring light on just how truly forgotten people living in ‘unsupported temporary accommodation’ (UTA) are. UTA are not provided by the local council, and could be anything from a hostel, to a bed and breakfast or similar. The conditions in these places can be so shocking, that a recent report by the Manchester Evening News described them as ‘Victorian slum conditions’.

IPPR North and JustLife undertook a three-year programme of work to understand the impact and scale of hidden homelessness such as that of people living in UTA, and to develop policy recommendations. A lack of locks on doors, overcrowding, no kitchen or bathroom facilities, soiled carpets, blood stains, infestations, broken windows, and a lack of a bed were all commonplace in UTA. And tragically, during the course of the three-year project, five of the 45 service users that we spoke to lost their lives prematurely.

What we must understand is that there are tens of thousands of people living in conditions like these, and JustLife’s report reveals around ten times more people are affected than the government suggests. Whilst official figures indicate that the 5,870 were living in bed and breakfast accommodation in 2015/16, JustLife’s analysis shows us that in all likelihood, the population was actually upwards of 51,500 – enough to fill Anfield stadium.

So what action should we take to tackle hidden homelessness?

Firstly, an official recognition of the scale of the problem, and of the value of lived experience in improving services is an important step. Temporary accommodation boards, set up by local bodies to coordinate existing activities and collectively monitor local bedspaces, would also be a way of ensuring there was some oversight in the system – an idea that, encouragingly, has been welcomed by Burnham. These boards could also operate ‘greenlists’ of habitable places to stay and ‘exclusion lists’ of places which are unacceptable, thus incentivising landlords to improve.

People must also change the way that we view, talk about, and approach homelessness. Last year’s report by the FrameWorks Institute found that people perceive homelessness as divorced from wider economic forces, and as an individual rather than a collective problem. If we are to make a dent in the homelessness crisis, this needs to change.

One year into the term of the first metro mayors, it is encouraging to see changes in the discourse surrounding the issue. However, as a collective societal issue, we need a collective societal response. It is incumbent upon everyone, from central government, to the media, to communities, to approach this crisis with the determination to tackle it.

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Rosie Corrigan is media and campaigns manager at IPPR North and Scotland. She tweets @Rosie_Corrigan

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Photo by Mikey, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Rosie Corrigan

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