27 April 2021

A new cross-Whitehall group has been set up to help coordinate policy on London-focussed issues, with a revamp of last year’s Covid homeless scheme among its early priorities.

The ministers involved are looking at whether last year’s Everyone In scheme could be used as a platform to provide health and other services to homeless people in hotels and other hubs long-term.

Junior housing minister Eddie Hughes and ex-veterans minister Johnny Mercer, before he was sacked last week, have been involved in the new informal policy group which is being led by London minister Paul Scully.

The Everyone In scheme was launched during the first coronavirus lockdown last March by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure all homeless people were off the streets.

About 37,000 homeless people were provided emergency accommodation in hotels as a part of the programme.

The scheme was praised when it was launched last March by homeless charities, with the scheme estimated to have prevented 266 deaths, according to a University College London study.

However, the government has come under criticism from groups like Crisis for not running the Everyone In scheme in its original form throughout the entirety of the Covid crisis.

A government source told City A.M. that a group of ministers were now looking at using some of the elements of the scheme and incorporating them into the government’s long-term strategy to deal with homelessness.

“We think the Everyone In scheme could have gone further,” the source said.

“What could be done is using hotels and other similar hubs in London to provide health and other services to homeless people involved. It would make it much easier when we have them all in one place.”

The blanket Everyone In scheme did not continue in its original form through subsequent lockdowns, however funding was made available to house some rough sleepers through subsequent programmes.

This includes a £91.5m package given to 274 local authorities to help give shelter to rough sleepers.

This comes from a £750m pot Rishi Sunak announced in last year’s Budget to tackle rough sleeping.

However, statistics from the Combined Homelessness And Information Network (Chain) showed the number of homeless people in London rose by 25 per cent between October and December last year.

Jasmine Basran, policy manager for homeless Charity Crisis, said there had been confusion around what government funding was available to help rough sleepers during the last two lockdowns.

“That basically made it very difficult for local authorities and we did see different local authorities taking different approaches,” she said.

Basran said she would support a continuation of the scheme in some form or another as is being discussed.

“We support the principles of the programme being carried forward and that’s ensuring people have a place to stay who are sleeping and rough and they can access the services they need,” she said.

“We would welcome a long-term commitment to ensuring no one has to sleep rough.”

The government’s current aim is to end rough sleeping in the UK by 2024.

However, parliament’s Public Affairs Committee has criticised the government for not having an overarching strategy to achieve this goal.

The committee’s chair Meg Hillier, a Labour MP, said the government has a chance after the Everyone In scheme to “begin to reverse its long record of failed and abandoned housing targets and policies”.

A spokesperson from MHCLG said: “We are pleased the success of the ongoing Everyone In campaign which has so far housed 37,000 people has been recognised.

“We’re providing £750m this year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping and are working with partners to learn any lessons from the pandemic and update our ambitious plans to end rough sleeping for good.”

Source: CITY A.M.