what each party promises on homelessness in its election manifesto

manifestos - portraits of party leaders in the general election colourised to match each parties colours
A look into how Labour, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Greens manifestos compare their approch to housing and homelessness

Now that manifestos have been published, I’ve been looking at what the Conservatives, Greens, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are offering to address the homelessness emergency.

I want to know what will really make a difference to people experiencing homelessness, who come to us for help.

Earlier in the year, The Connection set out the things we asked politicians from across all parties to include in their manifestos:

  • Urgently invest in affordable and suitable social housing for people with complex needs
  • Invest in flexible mental health and addiction services for people with complex needs
  • Ensure gender-specific support for women from commissioning to service design and delivery
  • The principle behind manifestos is that we all diligently read them, consider the contents carefully, choose the one we like the best, then give them our vote. The problem is that hardly anyone reads them and with the Lib Dem manifesto at 117 pages, Conservative on 80 and Labour on 136, I can see why.

    Homelessness is a resolvable issue if we, as a society, have the will to make it happen. It requires policies and financial investment. Rough sleeping accounts for 0.05% of our population in England – a tiny proportion. We do have a choice.

    If you care about ending homelessness as much as we do, but can’t face the long reads, here’s my thoughts about how the manifestos address our three main asks. I’ve also suggested some alternative reading and watching to bring the issues to life.

    Access to affordable, suitable housing in party manifestos

    All of the manifestos are all proposing major house building. However, there are differences:

    The Conservatives are offering to build 1.6m homes. They emphasise home ownership but they do also intend to maintain the Affordable Homes government subsidy scheme to ensure more social homes are built.

    They set out gatekeeping measures for social housing, highlighting it as a valuable resource rather acknowledging the need for more. They include measures to penalise social renting tenants if they are responsible for antisocial behaviour;

    The Greens want to build 150,000 houses a year, including the refurbishment of older housing stock. In stark contrast to the Conservatives, they want to end the right to buy to keep social homes in community ownership;

    The Labour Party sets out “the biggest increase in social and affordable house-building in a generation.” They pledge to build 1.5m homes, will also maintain the Affordable Homes scheme and reviewing Right to Buy to protect new stock as social housing.

    They are proposing changes to planning, cross-authority strategies for building and restoring mandatory housing targets.

    The Lib Dems don’t give a specific target for housebuilding but will encourage the development of brownfield sites with financial incentives and ensuring that affordable and social housing is included in these projects.

    Although it looks like the calls to address the housing emergency have been heard, the barriers to actually building these homes are still significant. Therefore I would expect the housing emergency to continue well into the next parliament. That does give plenty of time to plan some parameters for a house building surge when it comes.

    We have lessons to learn from the past. These are fantastically depicted in Richard Hawley’s musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge.

    The iconic brutalist Park Hill estate in Sheffield was an ambitious, optimistic housing development. It deteriorated in physical condition after a few decades and residents experienced the economic and social decay of the 1980s. This has been followed by an era of gentrification and privatisation. We need social housing which is genuinely affordable, aspirational, fuel efficient and well served by local amenities.

    The Sterling Prize winning scheme at Goldsmith Street built by Norwich City Council is a great example of what I mean.

    I am also inspired by small community-led schemes such as the Kendal Community Land Trust, chaired by our erstwhile employee Beki Winter. One CLT is a drop in the ocean, but if hundreds of communities took the initiative, we’d have a movement.

    A major house-building programme need not be terrible for the environment. But building homes to a sustainable standard may make doing so more expensive. There is a powerful opportunity for the construction industry to build the skills and workforce they need from those experiencing homelessness.

    The three largest parties have specified their plans to address homelessness and rough sleeping. There isn’t much detail but, crucially, they all recognise the need for cross-departmental working.

    Flexible mental health and addiction services

    If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.The Connection works with people who are living on or repeatedly returning to the streets. This is because the current homelessness support system isn’t working for them. We need to do something different and we see mental wellbeing as central to this.

    The Conservatives offer support to encourage people back to work. Work can be great for mental health. It can also be destructive if you are in the wrong job.

    These proposals will work well for some but will penalise people who are not ready for work. There is a commitment to addiction treatment for people whose drug use is linked to offending, along with a 10 year plan to tackle drugs.

    The Liberal Democrats have plans to address drug problems, as well as an investment in mental health services. They propose check-ups at key points in people’s lives when they are vulnerable.

    The Greens would like a legal framework on the rights of people with mental health issues, an increase in care funding, the offer of therapies within 28 days and they want to put mental health conditions on an equal footing with physical health care.

    The Labour party recognise the need to reduce waiting times for mental health services, an increase in access to treatment and Young Futures hubs based in communities.

    Labour have also included support for people with autism and or learning difficulties. I have never seen this in a manifesto before. Over 40% of homeless people experience these issues.

    Most of our clients have experienced trauma, usually in childhood, and have rarely, if ever, had access to a mental health professional.

    We know the power of trauma informed interventions, high quality talking therapy and intensive residential addiction support. These approaches unlock potential and enable people to build a totally different future for themselves. They also reduce rough sleeping, antisocial behaviour and use of emergency services.

    A book and film which tells this story incredibly well is Stuart: A Life Backwards or, for a slightly different take, Poverty Safari.

    All of the manifestos have broad plans and the detail will make all the difference. We know that psychologists, counsellors and psychiatric care, residential detox and rehab are expensive.

    However, the alternatives are: prison, police custody, A&E, years in temporary homelessness services all of which cost more in the long run. And, in many cases, where solutions are not implemented we see wasted potential, ruined lives and even premature death.

    Women’s homelessness

    The Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour manifestos all mention equalities and women. Violence Against Women & Girls (VAWG) is highlighted by the Lib Dems, who want to increase refuges, rape crisis centres and community support for survivors of domestic abuse. The Conservatives propose expanding women’s health hubs.

    Women make up a large proportion of those in temporary accommodation and 20% of rough sleepers in London. This is not a niche issue and we won’t reduce homelessness if we don’t address the specific challenges they face.

    Over 90% of women sleeping rough in London have been the victim of a physical or sexual assault whilst on the streets. This is an appalling statistic. We want to see the new government, regardless of their party, recognising the issue and addressing it in their response.


    It is not our place to tell you how to vote. However, it is our place to work with whoever is in government to eradicate homelessness and rough sleeping. The UK has addressed its homelessness situation before.

    It is in our gift to use the democratic process to prioritise doing so again. The most important starting point is for us, as a society, to believe that this is possible.

    We saw during the pandemic what was possible when politicians are mobilised around a crisis. This is a crisis. Let’s get behind all policies and expenditure which will end homelessness for good, whoever moves into Number 10 on 5th July.

    -Pam Orchard, CEO of The Connection
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