Sajid Javid: Housing First. The scheme that can help us break the cycle of homelessness.

19 Feb

Sajid Javid is a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and is MP for Bromsgrove.

In the course of any political career there are certain moments that stick with you. The past few years have brought me more than my fair share, however one that will always stand out in my memory was when I first met Wayne.

Wayne has a complex backstory. After leaving the Armed Forces aged 22 he’d spent 30 years sleeping on the streets. Thirty years. On becoming homeless, he began drinking heavily to self-medicate his mental health problems and was soon addicted to heroin and crack.

Outreach teams approached him repeatedly over the years and he’s been in and out of the hostel system. He’s also been in and out of the criminal justice system, managing to accumulate a total of 50 custodial sentences.

The scale of Wayne’s personal crisis made the story he told me about what happened next all the more remarkable.

When we met, he described how he’d moved into a flat through one of the very few “Housing First” schemes available at the time, and sustained his tenancy for 20 months. He’d stopped using drugs, and given up the prolific shoplifting that funded his habit. He’d voted for the first time. He’d even adopted a cat.

The result, Wayne told me, was that he “felt like a part of society for the first time ever”.

Wayne’s background might be shocking, but it’s also tragically familiar. The lives of the most entrenched rough sleepers are frequently marked by early experiences of trauma as well as substance dependency, family breakdown, poor health and sometimes criminality. For this group, the path to stability is treacherous and steep.

“Familiar”, however, does not mean “acceptable”. Nobody should ever have to live on the streets, or feel that they’ve forfeited their place in society. That’s why the Conservative manifesto rightly committed to ending the blight of rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. This might be an ambitious target, but ambition spurs action and the past 12 months have bolstered my conviction that it can be done.

Right at the start of the pandemic, Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, instructed local authorities to bring everyone in off the streets. This led to more than 30,000 people being provided emergency accommodation in the space of a few weeks, saving hundreds of lives and demonstrating what government can do. For some, this has provided an opportunity to get back on their feet. For others, it’s a short-term solution.

If we want to build on this, we’ll need a comprehensive, long-term plan to turn the tide on rough sleeping. Difficult problems sometimes require drastic solutions, which is why as Housing Secretary I looked at replicating the Housing First model and rolling it out across the country.

The idea was to take the existing “treatment first” policy, and turn it on its head. The state would house rough sleepers facing the most serious challenges – such as mental health issues and addiction – without conditions, save for the willingness to maintain their tenancy. When they felt ready, we would then apply the intensive, personalised support needed to turn their lives around in a more stable environment.

Although this requires a significant investment upfront, similar schemes around the world have demonstrated that it works. I went to see this for myself in Finland, where Housing First is rolled out nationally and rough sleeping has been all but eradicated. Because participants have less contact with homelessness, health and criminal justice services, it saves the taxpayer money in the long run.

When I was Housing Secretary, I persuaded the Treasury to fund three large-scale Housing First pilots in Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands. These pilots have already helped more than 550 people off the streets and into permanent homes, with many more to follow. As many as 88 per cent of individuals supported by the pilots have sustained their tenancies, with an independent evaluation showing that those with a history of numerous failed tenancies are now staying put. Put simply, Housing First works.

We must now finish the job.

A national Housing First programme would build on the foundations of the regional pilots, as well as the Government’s efforts to provide accommodation during the pandemic. It’s an opportunity to give some of the most vulnerable people in our country a second chance, and to welcome them back into society.

That’s why I strongly welcome the Centre for Social Justice’s new report, Close to Home, setting out in detail how Housing First could be scaled up from 2,000 to 16,500 places to become a flagship policy for people whose homelessness is compounded by multiple disadvantage. I firmly believe this would be our best shot at breaking the cycle of homelessness by the end of the Parliament.

Four years on from meeting Wayne, I hear from his Housing First support workers that he’s made excellent progress, developing the skills he needs to live independently: “He’s come a long way, and is really proud of where he’s at now – as are we.”

We too have come a long way in addressing rough sleeping since 2017 and we have a great deal to be proud of. But there is still more to do. No one should be forced to sleep on the streets. With programmes like Housing First, they won’t have to.

Sajid Javid: We need a strategy for putting the country back on a secure financial footing.

11 Sep

Sajid Javid is a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and is MP for Bromsgrove.

When is a pandemic not a public health crisis?

That’s the question raised by pollsters in Australia and the US, who have found that the public are increasingly likely to talk about the impact of Covid-19 in economic – rather than epidemiological – terms.

Not so in the UK, where throughout lockdown the public’s attention remained firmly fixed on case numbers and mortality rates. In one sense, we have Rishi Sunak to thank for that. Interventions such as the furlough scheme were rightly among the most generous of any country, and have insulated many from the consequences of the downturn – so far.

The Treasury’s largesse, however, comes at a cost. Whilst the Government was right to spend ‘whatever it takes’, we cannot afford to play down the magnitude of the hole this has created in the public finances. In the first six months of the crisis, the National Audit Office estimates that coronavirus cost the government a whopping £210 billion in extra spending alone. To put that in perspective, a decade of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan cost the taxpayer £30bn.

Politically, the easy way out would be to accept a permanent increase in public sector borrowing – at least for the remainder of this term. There are many in Westminster who will try to seize on the crisis as a way of introducing unsustainable levels of day-to-day spending through the back door.

That would be deeply irresponsible and, in the long term, an act of national self-harm. Not only would we be burdening future generations with unserviceable levels of debt, it would leave us dangerously unprepared for future crises.

I’m not suggesting that we slam the brakes on spending, nor that we abandon a manifesto pledge not to raise the rate of income tax, VAT or National Insurance. However, it’s critically important that we remain committed in the medium and long term to sound money, low borrowing and balanced budgets.

In short, we need a strategy for putting the country back on a secure financial footing.

I’d like to see theGgovernment set out a plan for bringing our national debt under control at the Autumn Budget, underpinned by a new set of fiscal rules. Wait any longer and day-to-day spending will become progressively more difficult to unwind. The rules themselves should be a clear statement of intent. In a recent report, I argued that the government should set itself the target of balancing the current budget within three years of the economy returning to normality. In the meantime, we should ensure that the deficit falls year on year. Delivering on this would require us to tackle the problem in three stages.

The first is to take a fresh look at what savings can be made from existing commitments. When inheriting a government department I often asked for a complete list of ongoing spending programmes. I was consistently amazed at the number of vanity projects and out-of-date initiatives burning through cash beneath the surface.

The Treasury’s upcoming comprehensive spending review should be zero-based, meaning that every programme in every department is measured against its importance for recovery and levelling up the country. If a programme isn’t delivering value for the taxpayer, it has no business spending their money.

Some reforms make sense given the wider circumstances. Relaxing regulations on childcare provision, for example, has the potential to rein in a multi-billion-pound government bill whilst also reducing the cost of living and encouraging parents to return to work.

Secondly, the Government should avoid tax increases that weaken the businesses driving our recovery. Trying to restore the health of the Government’s accounts by clawing back money from Britain’s SMEs and entrepreneurs would take a scythe to any green shoots and stymie economic growth.

This would be a good opportunity to commission a system-wide review of our tax system with a view to delivering increases in revenue through improving incentives and minimising distortions.

Above all else, the government must remember that the faster we recover in the short term, the fewer unpopular tax and spending decisions will be needed over the next four years.

Consequently, our third and most important priority is the vigorous pursuit of growth. The objective of this is not only to recover lost ground as swiftly as possible, but to use the pandemic as an opportunity to put an end to the poor growth rates of the past few years and set our country on a path of solid and sustained expansion.

With real interest rates below zero the government can dramatically increase its investment in infrastructure, particularly in left-behind regions. As well as providing an immediate boost to economic activity this would drive improvements in productivity and long-term growth.

Successive governments have discovered the hard way that infrastructure projects are easy to announce, but difficult to realise. We need to simplify the disjointed, dysfunctional framework through which infrastructure is planned and delivered. Strengthening the National Infrastructure Commission and setting up a British Infrastructure Bank would be a good place to start.

When businesses are struggling to stay afloat, the last thing they should have to worry about is new red tape. There should be a moratorium on all nonurgent regulation, and a cross-government review on what existing rules could be temporarily waived.

In the long term, if we want to be world-leaders in high-growth sectors such as life sciences and artificial intelligence we have to develop a regulatory regime that better accommodates innovation and change.

I’m determined to see our country step confidently into its future by making the most of the economic opportunities that Brexit presents. The government has made good progress towards establishing new freeports as a way of driving growth and creating thousands of high-skilled jobs in towns and cities across the UK.

However, you shouldn’t have to live on the coastline or next to a major airport to benefit from our newfound economic freedom. The government should seek to match it’s maritime ambitions with new enterprise zones for landlocked areas, boosting investment and opportunity as part of our mission to level up the regions.

While the challenge facing my colleagues in government is immense, I am in no doubt that they possess the imagination and resolve to overcome it. Growth is the key to getting us out of this crisis. With the right reforms, we can not only rebuild the economy but put it on even firmer foundations than before.

The Centre for Policy Studies’ Going for Growth Conference will be running online from 0900 to 1700 today. ‘Robert Colvile in conversation with the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP’ will be broadcast from 12:45..