Ministers must press ahead with a major scheme to tackle homelessness if the Government wants to end rough sleeping within the next three years, a report said.
The Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping called for extra cash pumped into taking people off the streets through the Everyone In drive during the coronavirus pandemic to be maintained, at an estimated annual cost of £82million.
Comissioners also called for the £20 Universal Credit uplift to be kept in a bid to stop mounting cases of worsening mental health.
The increased payments were first announced by the Chancellor in April 2020 to help struggling families during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lord Adebowale, the chair of the NHS Confederation and one of the report’s commissioners told the Mirror the removal of the £20 Universal Credit boost is “cruel and counterproductive”.
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“The very idea that you make cuts from the very poorest of people who have been made vulnerable as a result of the Coronairus pandemic seemed a little odd,” he added.
“The benefit system is a net contributor to the stress and mental health issues that we see in many poor people and many people of the ages of homelessness. It actually contributes to the stressor.”
The Everyone In initiative saw town halls ordered at the start of the pandemic to provide emergency accommodation to rough sleepers, people living in shelters with shared sleeping arrangements, and those at risk of rough sleeping.
According to Government estimates, at least 37,000 people were provided with a Covid-secure place to stay, and access to health and other support services.
Former head of the Civil Service Lord Bob Kerslake said: “If we fail to learn the lessons of Everyone In, all the signs from the commission’s work are that the situation will get worse, not better, and homelessness and rough sleeping will increase.
“That would be an enormous lost opportunity for the Government to deliver on its rough sleeping commitment, and a personal tragedy for those affected.
“We are at a pivotal moment. I fervently hope that the Government does the right thing and takes forward the recommendations in this interim report.”
Homelessness charity boss Steve Douglas said: “We at St Mungo’s have seen the tangible positive difference that the work since the start of the pandemic has had on people experiencing homelessness, and we know it has saved hundreds of lives.
“We must not lose that momentum as we transition from lockdown.
“Right now we have a real opportunity to make our shared aim of ending rough sleeping a reality – we must take it.”
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: “Our decisive action through the internationally recognised Everyone In scheme has protected thousands of rough sleepers throughout the pandemic.
“We’re building on that success with the backing of an unprecedented £750million investment this year, giving rough sleeping and health services the funding they need to help get people off the streets and into settled accommodation.”