Starmer Deputy Revives Blair-Era Approach to Cut UK Homelessness

(Bloomberg) -- Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner plans to establish a new civil service unit to drive a push to end homelessness if the opposition wins power in next month’s general election, tapping an approach previously used by former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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Rayner will set up an “Ending Homelessness Unit,” modeled on the Blair-era Rough Sleeping Unit, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked for anonymity discussing unannounced plans. The group would sit within a newly created Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which Rayner intends to use as a power base at the heart of government.

The new unit would have its own dedicated staff with authority to drive policy across government departments should the opposition party emerge victorious in the July 4 vote, the people said. That would give Rayner personal responsibility over a key party goal for the first Labour government in 14 years.

Labour didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer appears set to enter Downing Street as the UK’s new prime minister next month, with his party enjoying a wide polling advantage over Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives, which have been in power for 14 years. With homelessness has rising in the UK in recent years, Labour has pledged to eliminate the problem if it enters government.

While Rayner’s planned new program is based on that advanced by Blair’s so-called “New Labour” in the late 1990s and early 2000s, its remit would be wider, going beyond those who sleep out in the open to include people who lack a permanent home, sleeping in shelters or moving regularly between hostels, bed-sits and friend’s homes.

Blair’s unit succeeded in cutting the amount of people sleeping in public by two-thirds.

Government statistics show some 44,760 households were assessed as homeless in the final quarter of 2023, up 15.8% on the previous year. A further 34,220 households were threatened with homelessness, a 4.8% increase. At the more visible end of the spectrum, rough sleeping — which the government says is “inherently difficult” to estimate — was logged at 3,898 on a single night in the autumn, an increase of more than a quarter on the previous year.

The new unit will conduct a review of existing homelessness strategies before setting a new cross-departmental plan, the people said. Labour’s electoral manifesto — due for publication on Thursday — is expected to re-iterate the party’s commitment to what it describes as “the biggest boost to social and affordable housing in a generation” and its promise to end so-called no-fault evictions, which allow landlords to repossess a property without having to establish fault on the tenant’s part.

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