news analysis of government plans to limit the use of B&Bs by families and the homeless

Scottish executive and the government have unveiled strategies to tackle
homelessness. But which plan will be more achievable? Anabel Unity Sale

is like waiting for a bus: you wait patiently and then two come along at once.
This was the situation facing the homelessness sector when both Scotland and
England announced their efforts to tackle the issue days apart.

Scottish executive kicked things off two weeks ago with the publication of Helping
Homeless People
, the final report by the homelessness task force (News,
page 16, 7 March). At the report’s launch, social justice minister Iain Gray
said the executive fully endorsed the report’s 59 recommendations. These
include entitlement to a permanent home for every homeless person in Scotland
by 2012, unless their rights have been suspended for a specific reason.

the other recommendations is that the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation
for families should be discontinued, as should the use of large-scale hostels
for housing homeless people. Homeless people should be able to apply for
accommodation at any of the country’s 32 local authorities. Greater priority
should be given to meeting the health-care needs of homeless people and
improving their employment and training opportunities. All councils will be
obliged to provide access to a rent deposit or guarantee scheme by 2004, and to
establish comprehensive crisis response systems to deal with the immediate
issues facing homeless individuals.

executive has allocated an extra £11m over the next two financial years to help
implement the "blueprint to end homelessness", split between £3m in
2002-3 and £8m in 2003-4. The money is to help councils develop their own
homelessness strategies under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, creating the
rent deposit scheme, and addressing any gaps in their homelessness provision.

approach to tackling homelessness is "radical" because the problem is
on a smaller scale than in England, according to a Crisis policy spokesperson
specialising in Scotland.

says: "There are marked differences between Scotland and England, and it
makes it easier for Scotland to have more radical ideas. The Scottish executive
is new and more open."

the homelessness sector marvelled at the Scottish executive’s aims, the
Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions’ new homelessness
directorate prepared to unveil its own strategy for England. The directorate
incorporates the former rough sleepers unit, the bed and breakfast unit and a
new unit to assist local authorities tackling homelessness. Louise Casey,
former head of the RSU, leads the homelessness directorate.

week’s publication of the DTLR’s More Than a Roof report followed
Scotland’s lead. It, too, set out to tackle councils’ use of B&Bs for
homeless families with children, but here the Scottish and English goals
differ. Although the Scottish executive aims to "eliminate" the use
of B&Bs, it has no set deadline. However, the commitment is reinforced by
its declaration as a social justice action plan target. In England, the
strategy pledges that no families with children will be housed in B&Bs by
March 2004, unless in an emergency.

£125m allocated by the DTLR to get the homelessness strategy up and running
obviously dwarfs Scottish funding, but it is not all new money. In fact, a DTLR
spokesperson admits that it is "newly allocated" money. During
2002-3, the homelessness directorate will spend £35m on developing a range of
alternatives to B&B accommodation for councils. At the same time it will
use £30m to sustain the reduction in people sleeping rough achieved by the
rough sleepers unit – the same level of investment that saw a 71 per cent
reduction in rough sleepers from 1,850 in 1998 to 532 in 2001.

why is there such a difference between the expenditure to tackle the two
countries’ problems? One reason might be the number of people officially
classified as homeless. During 2000-1, Scottish local authorities received
45,172 homeless applications from individuals in all categories. More Than a
says that in England there were 114,350 unintentionally homeless and
in priority need people during 2000-1.

statistics released the day after the strategy’s announcement reveal an even
bleaker picture. In the last quarter of 2001, there were 78,620 households
living in temporary accommodation. Of these, 12,110 households were in B&Bs
– a 23 per cent increase on the year.1

criticism to emerge of both countries’ plans centres on targets to reduce the
use of B&Bs. Shaks Ghosh, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis,
says it is a "completely achievable" target for the DTLR to rehouse
the 6,500 families with children currently in B&Bs.

she is concerned that doing so will create a two-tier system. "You will
have a lot of damaged, very vulnerable people left in B&Bs if you only
focus on moving out families with children. Is B&B accommodation any more
acceptable for them? I don’t think so."

says the directorate should extend its target by another two years and invest
more money in an effort to move out all B&B users.

minister Sally Keeble denies that the strategy will result in a two-tier system
and says that it is unrealistic not to prioritise a group. "We have to
prioritise and the impact on children of living in B&Bs is infinitely worse
because they are at such a crucial stage of their development."

how will English local authorities actually move families out of B&Bs?
Keeble says some of the £35m provided for councils to rehouse B&B families
will go towards helping them develop partnerships with private sector housing
providers to lease properties.

adds that the homelessness directorate will also be keen to see how the work of
the DTLR’s affordable housing unit develops. "We hope to see an increase
in affordable housing units irrespective of the need to tackle homeless
figures," she says.

Paul Bettison, chairperson of the Local Government Association’s housing
executive, says it is important that the problems associated with the shortage
of suitable accommodation are addressed. He adds: "The LGA is keen for the
government to indicate how and where the £35m will be targeted to ensure that
it is used most effectively."

both the Scottish executive and the DTLR plans focus on preventing
homelessness, the executive places a greater emphasis on dealing with the wider
needs of homeless people, according to the Crisis policy spokesperson. She
says: "The executive has a health and homelessness person and it
recognises the health needs of this client group."

type of joint working is something from which the English could learn, says
Ghosh. "There is not enough emphasis on care, particularly for people who
have been moved off the streets by the rough sleepers initiative."

light of the strategy, local government secretary Stephen Byers pledged a
commitment to greater co-operation between government departments, announcing
that housing minister Lord Falconer would lead a new ministerial committee for

supports the idea: "Homelessness is hugely complex and for far too long it
has been seen as a housing issue and it is not."

Scotland, a monitoring group has already been set up to oversee the
implementation of the plan. Gray says: "The monitoring group will comment
on proposals for implementing the task force’s recommendations, monitor
statistical indicators as well as general progress, and advise ministers

both long-awaited plans show is that tackling homelessness is not only the responsibility
of the ruling authority. It is up to central and local government, the
voluntary and private sector to get involved and address a growing problem.

Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, Statutory
Homelessness Statistics: 4th Quarter
, DTLR, 2001

Helping Homeless People: An Action Plan for Prevention and Effective
, available from 

More Than a Roof: A Report into Tackling Homelessness
, available from 0870
1226 236

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