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On repeating what we don’t repair

Our Policy & Communications Officer, Tanya Harrington, reflects on our asks for the next Senedd, inspired by the efforts of frontline workers.

After years of funding uncertainty, 2020 saw a step change in the approach to homelessness in Wales. This was prompted by the work of the Homelessness Action Group, which set out a plan to end homelessness, and accelerated by the need to respond effectively to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The third sector has been incredibly fortunate to have benefitted from strong leadership during the course of the pandemic – defined by collaborative action, good communication, and unprecedented increases in funding for services. 

In March 2020, the Welsh Government announced £10 million in emergency funding to provide accommodation and support to thousands of people experiencing homelessnessThen, in May, a further £20 million was announced, to support the transformation of temporary accommodation and provision of permanent homes. The capital element of this was then increased from £10 million to £40 million. In December, it was announced that the Housing Support Grant would increase by a massive £40 million, in order to ensure that services can continue to build on the incredible work done over the course of the last 18 months.  

We absolutely welcome these commitments. In fact, it’s safe to say that our entire team jumped for joy when the HSG increase was announced. Then, when it came out that frontline homelessness and housing support workers were set to receive the £735 bonus payment, it confirmed what we already knew to be true: that housing support services are vital and valued. 

So why are we kicking up such a fuss? 

The answer to this question lies in our asks themselves. While the efforts during the pandemic have been incredible, we know that homelessness has not been ended. Emergency accommodation has kept people safe but it is not a secure, settled home.  

So, to build on the achievements made so far, we’re asking the next Senedd to:  

1.     Implement the Homelessness Action Group recommendations 

2.     Protect and increase the Housing Support Grant 

3.     Deliver 20,000 energy efficient social homes 

4.     Recognise and reward homelessness and support workers 

5.     Improve access to mental health services 

Simply put, we think Wales is on the path to ending homelessness for real. 

We want to take this opportunity to create an environment where it can stay on track – where there never needs be yet another fight for funding or recognition of the value third sector services deliver because the evidence is so plain to see. 

By implementing the Homelessness Action Group recommendations, we can create a Wales that prioritises rapid rehousing and a cross-government approach to ending homelessness. This includes the provision of early intervention services, multi-agency support for substance misuse, suitable homes for everyone’s needs, and a pivot to psychologically-informed services that break the cycle of trauma and empower individuals to leave homelessness behind for good. 

Of course, critical to this is the protection and increase of the Housing Support Grant in line with inflation throughout the next Senedd term, and beyond. Alongside the obvious benefits of sustained positive impact on health and wellbeing, recent research conducted by Cardiff Metropolitan University shows that HSG services deliver £300 million gross annual savings to public services in Wales by preventing homelessness, easing pressure on health and social care, and reducing interaction with the criminal justice system. This represents a net saving of £1.40 for every £1 invested by the Welsh Government – so increased funding for the HSG works as an investment that saves money in other areas. 

Everyone deserves the right to a safe, secure and affordable home. As we move toward a more sustainable, energy-efficient way of living, it only makes sense that our housing does as well. Particularly social housing, which is most affordable for people on low-incomes or who utilise the welfare system – further empowering people who have experienced homelessness to create a home that can sustain them in the long term. It is possible to build 20,000 social homes within the next Senedd term, lofty a goal as it is. And as we go forward, the decarbonisation of homes – both new-build and existing – will play an important role in protecting the environment and reducing poverty. 

Another huge part of ending homelessness is supporting our frontline staff members, who consistently go above and beyond, even in the face of extreme trauma. The Covid-19 pandemic has been an immense display of just how vital an asset to Wales our homelessness and support workers are. Yet, over the last decade, public spending restrictions combined with growing pressures on services have meant little to no pay increases for them, despite rising costs of living. Recruitment and retention of staff will be critical to ending homelessness, supporting people who have experienced homelessness to live free from violence and abuse. This does however mean that there must be a commitment to resourcing improved pay, support, and working conditions. 

Finally, it is imperative that we improve access to mental health services. Building enough safe, secure and affordable homes is critical, but support for people’s mental health is vital for maintaining tenancies and preventing homelessness. By improving access to NHS mental health services, expanding multi-disciplinary homelessness teams, and funding specialist housing support services, we can help people to deal with their experiences of trauma and break the cycle for future generations. 

And why is breaking the cycle so important? Because: 

You repeat what you don’t repair. 

We’ve spoken a lot this year about psychologically-informed approaches: being aware of how trauma and adverse circumstances can often impact individuals in ways that unfortunately leave them more likely to experience homelessness, substance abuse, or mental health issues. But the most crucial part of this approach is that while it offers a contextualisation of peoples’ history and their present, it doesn’t reduce them to that history. 

Similarly, we can be aware that our sector’s history of past insecurity and underfunding - combined with the immense personal wounds of the last year - have left their marks. But we can still take this opportunity to grow beyond our past cyclical scrabbles for funding and financial security, making this the Senedd term to end homelessness for good. It feels like a radical idea, from a broad perspective – that anything is possible with the right support, even in the most difficult of circumstances – but it’s one that frontline staff and people using services take every day. 

Always, our member organisations and the people who work within them hope and believe that the people they support can achieve what they set out to accomplish, that they can grow and heal and thrive with the right support. Now it’s time for us to manifest that belief toward the entire sector.  

It is critical that we no longer accept excuses like “we’ve always done it this way,” or “that’s just how things are,” when it comes to funding cuts and strains on services. It doesn’t have to be – this pandemic has proven that. We don’t need to repeat cyclical fights for funding or support anymore if the right approach is continued now. Instead, we can focus on the real work: helping people to feel safe, secure and thrive in their communities. 

In that spirit, we’ve shown up to this election with some pretty big asks in our pocket. But we think that they’re necessary – and we think that they’re possible. 

Help us make this the Senedd to end homelessness in Wales. Don’t settle for anything less.  

Share our manifesto, view our party manifesto comparison, and make your vote count. 

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© Cymorth Cymru 2021
Company Registration No: 5093332
Charity No: 1116774