Social Problems and Social Welfare

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For many of us when we hear the term “Homeless” the first image that often springs to mind is a person huddling in a sleeping bag or cardboard box in a doorway of a city street. Whilst media imagery and information released by charities can support this picture the problem of homelessness encompasses a far wider range. This discussion looks at homelessness with a particular emphasis on young people – that is young people typically aged between 16 and 24.

In its simplest form Homelessness means not having a home. In this context a home is not just a house, it is a permanent, private roof over your head, a place of security with community links and support. It should be of a decent standard and affordable. (Shelter Nov 2005)

The statutory definition used in official policy documents in England corresponds to persons and families who local housing authorities have accepted as ‘homeless’ (Vostanis and Cumella 1999). How local authorities defines a homeless person is examined in the discussion part of this essay.

The full scale of homelessness is difficult to quantify fully as much of the problem is hidden with some people going through periods of temporary homelessness before settling down again (Shelter Aug 2005) – this can be particularly true of young people who may find themselves living on a friends floor for a short period of time before returning to a true home. Some official government statistics are available however:

Homelessness trends published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister reveal that in 2004 204,700 households were found to be homeless; this figure includes (i) households unintentionally homeless and in priority need; (ii) intentionally homeless households; and (iii) homeless households not in priority need. However, local authorities only have a duty to re-house people in this first group which in 2004 stood at 127,760.

Currently there is no requirement to record statistics on young homeless people so it is difficult to measure the full scale of the problem however local authority figures do show that in 2004/5, local authorities accepted 10,560 homeless young people for priority re-housing due to their age.

The new Labour government acknowledged that homelessness was a major problem and indicated its commitment to review the legislation relating to homelessness and even hinted at the possible restoration of some of the rights removed by the Housing Act 1996 (Vostanis and Cumella 1999)

As a result the then Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government & the Regions, Rt. Hon Stephen Byers MP requested a report to look at tackling homelessness. Mr Byers acknowledged that a new strategy and approach was needed to tackled homelessness and that the we as a country were still dealing with the results and consequences of decision made in the 1980’s – in particular the number of children growing up in Bed & Breakfast accomodation.

This report – “More than a Roof” was published in 2002 closely followed by the Homeless Act 2002 which built upon and amended the Housing Act 1996 taking the social problem of Homelessness into a new gear.

The Housing Act 1996 classes a person as homeless if:-
no accommodation is available for his/her occupation;
or accommodation is available but not accessible;
or a person is threatened with homelessness in 28 days.
A homeless person is then only investigated by the local authority if they pass the “Tests for Homelessness”:-

Government policies during this period (1980 onwards) have particularly impacted on young people. (Shelter Nov 2005) Housing let by social service landlords as well as housing authority property has excluded young people from access to this area of housing and young people haven’t had priority on local authority waiting lists unless they fall into the bracket of homeless 16-17 year olds or care leavers aged 18-20. Private sector housing has been the remaining option for young people but increasingly high rent...
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