Most poor people live in some sort of home or permanent shelter. However, those who do not, the homeless, have become very visible in the streets of cities over the past twenty years (Giddens, 1997).
According, to Giddens (1997), “Like poverty, homelessness isn’t as easy to define as we might imagine. Two generations ago, most people still thought of ‘home’ as the family home. Homeless people were seen as individuals who lived in hostels on skid row. They were called homeless because they lived alone and rarely saw their families or kin”.
Over the past 30 years, much more people have come to live alone by choice and therefore the homeless have become defined as people who have nowhere to sleep, and who either stay in free street shelters on a temporary basis or sleep in places not meant for habitation, such as doorways, on park benches, in railway stations or in derelict buildings (Giddens, 1997).
Most of the homeless according to Giddens, (1997) “are people who find themselves on the streets because they have experienced personal disasters, such as parents or relatives and friends no longer able or willing to accommodate, breakdown of relationship with partner, mortgage default or rent arrears and loss of private rental dwellings and loss of service tenancy or other reasons”.
Meanwhile, according to the housing action group Shelter, homelessness had grown by 300 per cent between 1978 and 1992 (Giddens, 1997). Local authorities in England and Wales registered 450,000 people as living without a semi-permanent residence during 1995 (Haralambos et al; 1995).
Furthermore, according to Haralambos et al; (1995), “Shelter estimated there were a further 1.7 million unofficial homeless. These consisted of about 8,000 people sleeping rough, approximately 50,000 unauthorised tenants and squatters, 137,000 single people in hostels or lodgings, 77,000 insecure private tenants and about 1,200,000 people living with friends or relatives who needed a home of their own”.
Although, not all of these groups would be left out from statistics on Low Income Families, but nevertheless, the rise in all types of homelessness would make a huge difference to the figures if the homeless were included. By this, it can be argued that some of the homeless are suffering from absolute poverty since they do not even have adequate shelter (Haralambos et al; 1995).
The provision of more adequate forms of housing is of key importance in tackling homelessness, whether the housing is directly sponsored by the government or not (Giddens, 1997).
According to Giddens, (1997) “regardless of why people are on the streets, giving them a place to live that offers a modicum of privacy and stability is usually the most important thing we can do to improve their lives. Without stable housing, nothing else is likely to work”.
The National Assistance Act 1948 ended the Poor Law structure which supported the poor. However, it did not clearly deal with the homeless. For those who were without roofs over their heads they were dealt with by the social services departments (Walsh et al; 2000). As the housing departments felt they had no obligations to house homeless people, and with approximately 2 million people with inadequate or no housing at all after the Second World War (Walsh et al; 2000).
By the late 1940s Britain witnessed some of the most serious civil disobedience towards the government, when thousands of people decided to squat on disused military bases and in empty properties (Walsh et al; 2000).
Furthermore, the government ignored the problem of homelessness right through the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s (Walsh et al; 2000). Successive governments either denied there was an issue with homelessness, or they saw the homeless, as people who had brought this condition upon themselves (Walsh et al; 2000).
Meanwhile, families who were taken as being homeless by the local authority social services department were housed in temporary or emergency accommodation until they could solve their own housing situations. Furthermore, after a period of time, if their situation had not improved and suitable accommodation found, children were at risk of being taken into care (Walsh et al; 2000).
However, in 1977 a private member’s bill was passed by parliament which recognised homelessness, and set up a supporting structure for dealing with the problem. The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 was an important way forward to accepting the problems which poor people faced in obtaining housing (Walsh et al; 2000).
According, to Carnwath, (1978), “The words ‘homeless’ and ‘homelessness’, have been used in widely different contexts. They are sometimes used to include all those living in unsatisfactory conditions. Too wide a definition of homeless could tend to obscure the pressing needs of those who are literally without shelter, or are likely to lose in the immediate future what shelter they have”.
Furthermore, Carnwath, (1978), The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 “transfers statutory responsibility for the homeless from social services authorities to housing authorities. It has become widely accepted over recent years that homelessness is primarily a housing problem, and the primary responsibility for dealing with it should therefore lie with housing authorities, who are naturally better equipped than social services authorities to provide a permanent solution. The effect of the Act will be to
ensure that dealing with the problems of homeless will rightly become a normal part of day-to-day housing activities of every housing authority in the country”.
The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 according to Walsh et al; (2000) “imposed a duty on local authorities to provide permanent accommodation for homeless families who were defined as belonging to ‘priority groups’ and to give ‘advice and assistance’ to other homeless people. A person or family was defined as homeless if they had no legal right to housing or if threats of violence prevented them from exercising that right”.
Furthermore, Walsh et al; (2000) “In defining homelessness, the quality of housing was not taken into account, so people living in overcrowded housing, or even accommodation that was injurious to health, were not counted as homeless. The priority groups that had to be provided with permanent housing were, families with children, pregnant women and people sharing their households which could include a male partner, disabled people and elderly people”.
In order to obtain housing, the priority groups had to prove to the authorities that they were not deliberately homeless. There was also concern that the Act was being manipulated by people in order to be placed on the ‘priority list’ (Walsh et al; 2000).
This affected the chances of people on the ‘ordinary’ waiting list and who were living in poor conditions from being considered for housing as their conditions were not grounds for obtaining housing (Walsh et al; 2000). As a consequence of this a tightening-up of the provision of housing for the homeless was introduced (Walsh et al; 2000).
Although more attention was being directed towards the young, single mothers who were jumping the housing lists and given priority, less notice was given to the volume of council houses being purchased by existing tenants in the 1980s and the fall in local-authority house-building, resulting in less properties available for rent (Walsh et al; 2000). The properties which had not been purchased and available for rent were on less desirable estates, and often the homeless were placed there (Walsh et al; 2000).
By 1996, over 42% of all new local authority tenants were being attracted from the priority homeless groups (Walsh et al; 2000).
By the mid-1990s there was strong disagreements to the 1977 and 1985 Acts and the Conservative government introduced the Housing Act 1996 (Walsh et al; 2000).
The new Act according to Walsh et al; (2000) “introduced some very significant changes which made it more difficult for the homeless to be housed permanently. The definitions of homelessness and priority groups were largely retained, but instead of permanent accommodation, local authorities were only obliged to provide temporary accommodation for two years”.
During that period, the persons or families in question had to make satisfactory attempts to re-house themselves, as the local authority were not required to provide continuing accommodation (Walsh et al; 2000). Furthermore, according to Walsh et al; (2000), “the accommodation that the local authorities would provide on a temporary basis was largely to be outside the local authority housing stock. The homeless were therefore to be housed in the private for-rent market, if that was possible, or in hostels, or in housing association properties”.
With the decrease in size of the local authority housing stock and the government’s Homeless Initiative of 1989 which allocated an extra £250 million to reduce homelessness in England over a two year period, was directed at London and the South East, which were the main problem area (Balchin, 1995). Of this sum £177 million went to local authorities to repair their empty properties and lease houses in the private sector for short term housing, and £73 million to the housing associations for the same purpose (Balchin, 1995). Furthermore, voluntary groups were given grants to help the homeless, which totalled £2 million in 1990-91 and £6.1 million in 1992-93 (Balchin, 1995). A rough Sleepers’ initiative was started in June 1990 with an allocation of £96 million over a period of three years, with a further £86 million in 1992 to further the initiative until 1996 (Balchin, 1995). The funds provided hostel spaces and created more permanent move-on accommodation for people leaving hostel accommodation. More money was given to local authorities to increase the
total number of places for former rough-sleepers in housing leased from private owners (Balchin, 1995).
According to Balchin, (1995) “By mid-1992, the Rough Sleepers’ Initiative had provided about 850 places in hostels and over 1,200 in move-on accommodation, and a further 1,300 permanent places by December 1993. It is probable that the initiative was largely responsible for reducing the number of people sleeping rough in Central London from 1,046 in January 1991 to 440 in March 1992”.
However, with the improvement’s success, the initiative had only a slight effect on the total problem of homelessness. At the time of its launch, Shelter, according to Balchin, (1995) dubbed it a “sticking plaster over the wound of Britain’s growing housing shortage’, while the Institute of Housing said that the initiative was ‘calamine lotion to cover the spots”.
In December 1989 extra measures to tackle homelessness was announced in Wales. To use the Homelessness Reserve of over £4 million in an effective way, local authorities were encouraged to submit offers involving partnership schemes with housing associations, and support for voluntary organisations was increased to £580,000 in 1992-93 (Balchin, 1995). A three year programme to help young single homeless people in Cardiff to find and retain permanent accommodation was started worth £800, 000 (Balchin, 1995).
Meanwhile, in Scotland £15 million was allocated in the early 1990s to fund projects to tackle homelessness (Balchin, 1995). In 1992-93, £7.5 billion was spent funding 44 projects which included the supply of emergency hostels, follow-on accommodation, and furnished tenancies in Edinburgh and other places, which provided accommodation for 700 homeless people.
Other measures to deal with homelessness included the Flats over Shops Initiative and a system to use homes repossessed by mortgage lenders for accommodating homeless families (Balchin, 1995).
However, according to Balchin, (1995), “The policy measures involved comparatively little public expenditure. The largest of these, the Homeless Initiative, involved expenditure of only £250 million ‘a paltry sum when measured against the scale of the problem’, it was clear that the government was ‘skimming the surface of the problem, instead of tackling the root cause by investing more money in housing”.
The Homelessness Act, (2002) which forms the main part of the government’s plan for dealing with homelessness in England and Wales, gives more protection to those who are in priority need for housing, such as families, and gives people more choice in the housing they are allocated. The Act furthers the list to include 16 and 17 year olds and 18 to 21 years old who are care-leavers, as well as people who are vulnerable as a result of fleeing violence. Local authorities have a duty to carry out a homeless review, and develop a homeless strategy for the area to prevent homelessness, and provide accommodation and support to people who are or may find themselves homeless. Furthermore, the Homelessness Act, (2002) is considered to be the most important piece of government legislation introduced on housing and homelessness since the Housing Act 1996.
Under the Housing Act 1996 (Part VII) and the Homelessness Act 2002 councils must make enquiries to decide what legal housing obligations they have towards a person, and what other help they are entitled to receive as a result of their homelessness application.
According, to Communities and Local Government, (2008) “An extra £9.6 million to help rough sleepers make a permanent move away from the street was announced by Housing Minister Caroline Flint. The funding will support an additional 11 projects and 2 existing ones to improve and build new hostels and homelessness services across the country, helping homeless people back into independent living by giving them new skills and training”.
Furthermore, according to Communities and Local Government, (2008), “It brings the total investment under the Government’s Places of Change Programme to £80 million over the next three years which will deliver 80 schemes, transforming hostels and homelessness services”. The Housing Minister visited the newly refurbished St. Mungo’s Endell Street Homeless hostel, which was given £3.24 million under the previous round of programme, to find out from the residents how the centre had made a difference to their lives (Communities and Local Government, 2008).
According to Balchin, (1995) “It is therefore important to increase the supply of low-cost housing by putting empty houses back into use and to embark upon new house building programmes. Outside of central government, there have been several initiatives taken to reduce the number of empty dwellings. Funded by voluntary organisations, the Empty Homes Agency was set up in 1991 in an attempt to accommodate homeless families in some of the country’s then, 760,000empty houses and flats. The agency aimed to put the owners of empty houses in touch with housing associations subsequently letting them to homeless people nominated by local authorities”.
Homelessness acceptance figures show that they have gone down gradually from 35,770 in the third quarter of 2003 to 15,240 during October and December 2007. This is due to effective homelessness strategies and prevention methods implemented by Local Authorities in England (Communities and Local Government, 2008).
Statutory Homeless Statistics for 0ctober to December 2007 were down 12 per cent in acceptances compared with the same period the previous year (Communities and Local Government, 2008)
Furthermore, the number of people living in temporary accommodation has gone down since the end of 2005, after a time when the figure had stayed the same at around 101,000 and was below 80,000 at the end of December 2007 (Communities and Local Government, 2008).
Other statistics show that 87 per cent of households were in self-contained accommodation, 66 per cent in private sector accommodation, 20 per cent in accommodation by social landlords and 9 per cent were in hostel accommodation and women’s refuges. Just 5 per cent of households in temporary accommodation were in bed and breakfast accommodation (Communities and Local Government, 2008). And also, 76 per cent of households in temporary accommodation included dependent children and 92 per cent of these were in self-contained accommodation. (Communities and Local Government, 2008)
As the prevention of homelessness is a priority for the government they aim to reducing the number of households in temporary accommodation to 50,500 by 2010 (Communities and Local Government, 2008). Since July to September 2003 the figure of households accepted as homeless under the homelessness legislation has gone down by 54 per cent and the number of households in temporary accommodation has fallen below 83,000, the lowest level since July 2002 (Communities and Local Government, 2008).
These achievements are due to huge Government investment in services to prevent homelessness and also by continually supporting local authorities and voluntary sector agencies (Communities and Local Government, 2008). The Government’s funding for local authority homelessness grants has increased by 23 per cent from £60 million in 2005-06 to £74 million in 2007-08, thus bringing the total investment in prevention to £200 million over three years (Communities and Local Government, 2008).
In conclusion, there have been significant policies implemented across the UK to deal with homelessness in recent years, and with legislations from the government and strategies from authorities to tackle homelessness the government’s target of reducing the number of households in temporary accommodation will be achieved by the date set.
Balchin, P. (1995). Housing Policy an introduction, Routledge, London
Carnwath, R. (1978). A Guide to the HOUSING (Homeless Persons) ACT 1977. Charles Knight @ Company Ltd. London
Communities and Local Government, (2008), Housing. ‘Tackling and Preventing Homelessness’. Available at:
Communities and Local Government, (2008), Housing. Homelessness trends, Homelessness ‘Acceptances’. Available at:
Giddens, A. (1997). Sociology. Polity Press: Cambridge
Haralambos, M; Holborn, M. and Heald, R. (1995). Sociology Themes and Perspectives, Collins Educational, London
Homelessness Act, (2002). Available at:
Walsh, M; Stephens, P. and Moore, S. (2000), Social Policy and Welfare. Stanley Thornes (Publishers) Ltd. Cheltenham
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