MPs call for probe into how ministers failed to ensure people with severe mental health problems living rough at night were getting adequate housing
Governments failed to supply affordable housing for people who ended up homeless
The housing charity Crisis has said the government has been “left in the dark” about how many people with severe mental health problems ending up on the streets have reached that point because successive governments have failed to provide them with adequate housing.
The charity launched its own inquiry into what went wrong when a group of men with severe mental health needs, including depression, schizophrenia and narcissistic personality disorder, found themselves without a home and became so desperate that they resorted to sleeping rough in the streets of London, where they have suffered long-term housing stress and an increasing risk of homelessness.
Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, called for the government to commission an independent inquiry into the surge in homelessness. She said policymakers had overseen a “significant rise in the number of people feeling they no longer have a home or a secure place to live”.
The government has appointed a former housing minister, David Campion, to head a new independent inquiry into homelessness in England. It was launched following pressure from MPs, the charities Crisis and Shelter, and others to restore public confidence in the government’s handling of homelessness.
Campion will be on a fact-finding tour and will make recommendations next month, but the charities want the government to consider statutory action.
Campion will launch the inquiry on Wednesday in response to the plight of the group, known as the Swamp Brothers. The men spent eight nights sleeping in a large open-plan enclosure at Heathrow airport last winter. Their case became a media sensation and prompted moves from the airport to offer them temporary accommodation and working with Thames Reach housing services to secure them a permanent home.
Millions of pounds were also spent on buying, clearing and refurbishing a ground-floor flat to house the men at a private housing development in Battersea.
Theresa May apologised in September for the men not having been given better support, but welcomed their employment prospects and Housing Minister Kit Malthouse also voiced his concerns about the growing numbers of homeless people in London.
The commissioner of the Office for National Statistics, Professor John Pullinger, said there was “a substantial risk” that the official rise in homelessness – to 71,975 from 69,120 over the past year – could be underestimated due to a lack of data.
The substance abuse charity Addaction warned in October that 90% of British homeless people with a substance abuse problem had no access to health services when they were in crisis.
Crisis, which describes itself as the UK’s leading homelessness charity, said that amid a drastic rise in homelessness, at least 82,500 people in England were at risk of homelessness during the last 12 months. It said that had increased by 26% since March 2015.
Duncan Bannatyne, the business entrepreneur, tweeted: “If I became homeless, will you give me a bed for a night?”
Tony Blair’s housing tsar, Lord Myners, is to chair an inquiry on homelessness in the capital.
Campion, the chair of the Myners Review into the role of local authorities in the delivery of social housing, said: “Housing has been under-resourced for too long.”
He said despite repeated calls for sufficient funding to tackle the crisis, local authorities had been cut by £6bn over the last five years, housing benefit had been frozen for five years and soaring rents had combined to make it far harder for poorer families to get on the housing ladder.
“The fact that this is happening without government policy which is to increase the supply of housing is frankly appalling.”
Campion said the problem of homelessness was aggravated by the fact that people could not find work when they need it and that “there’s not enough supported housing available”, which meant they were often forced to become homeless.
Diana Horton, the chief executive of Crisis, said: “It is shocking that so many vulnerable people could turn to homelessness in a society that accepts homelessness as normal – yet that is exactly what is happening with increasing frequency.”
She said that unless the government increased housing provision, people with severe mental health needs would become increasingly likely to end up homeless, underlining the need for long-term crisis housing.