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Housing First Manifestos: Labour Inspired by Europe – Conservatives by Landlords

With Conservative landlords profiting from homelessness, Iwan Doherty explains how the Labour Party takes inspiration from Finland

With Conservative landlords profiting from homelessness, Iwan Doherty explains how Finland succeeded in reducing it by a third.

At a rally in Milton Keynes to launch his General Election campaign, Jeremy Corbyn announced a plan to purchase property to house every rough sleeper in the UK. While the Labour leader has talked about eradicating homelessness before, this is a much firmer commitment.

The proposal resembles Finland’s ‘housing first’ strategy, which has gone a long way to eradicating homelessness in the Nordic nation. The main aim is for rough sleepers to be housed first and the causes of their homelessness dealt with second. 

In Finland, homeless people are given permanent accommodation, in contrast to the UK where they are moved from one temporary house to the next. Once safely housed, it is far easier to treat the causes of homelessness – whether that is long-term unemployment, health problems or drug misuse. This contrasts with other models that require homeless people to tackle their problems on the streets, before the state will provide assistance.

As a result, Finland is the only country in Europe where homelessness is on the decline. Over a six-year period after the global financial crisis, the number of people who were long-term homeless decreased by approximately 1,200. Long-term homelessness has fallen by 35% and, in the policy’s capital, Helsinki, rough sleeping has been completely eradicated. 

Other European nations are now turning to Finland’s housing first approach. Denmark, Scotland and Belgium have all trialled similar systems. What isn’t the UK Government embracing it?

In 2012, homelessness reportedly cost England up to £1 billion. Reducing homelessness by 40,000 would save the public purse £370 million.

Rough sleeping has risen by 268% and homelessness has doubled during this Tory administration. With rising house prices and an ever-fraying safety net, this looks set to rise. 

Westminster is well aware of the policy. A recent report by the Communities and Local Government Committee stated the housing first model “appears to have had a positive impact in Finland” but “we are cautious about investing further in housing first in England because of the severity of England’s homelessness challenge and the scarcity of funding and of social housing”.

In short, the Conservative Party is not willing to properly fund councils and is unwilling to build social housing to house rough sleepers. The lack of available houses has allowed private landowners to profit massively from homelessness. Councils using private housing company providers as temporary accommodation has cost them more than £215 million in the last financial year. Firms charged on average £10,000 per booking and a third of these bookings breached guidelines on costs for temporary accommodation.

The Conservatives are heavily funded by property tycoons. In 2017, eight percent of its funding came from property magnates, who presumably do not want the state flooding the market with new affordable housing. The Tories may want to be cautious with government spending – but they may also be protecting their clients with their lack of house building.

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