Homelessness in the UK is slowly becoming a national problem and a disturbing, literal, eyesore for the United Kingdom. According to recent reports, it is estimated that the United Kingdom spends in excess of £1 billion, which is an equivalent of £24,000 – £30,000 per person, in dealing with the ever-rising cases of homelessness in the UK (Varle, 2018).
The UK government has increased its efforts in dealing with the challenge before it reaches unmanageable levels. However, some of the government’s efforts in the past have been met with criticism due to its tendency to make kneejerk reactions instead of decisively dealing with the issue.
An example of an undertaking that drew much criticism is the placement of more than 50,000 of London’s homeless families in temporary shelters. This accommodation included bed and breakfast-type establishments and hotels that cost the government an additional £170 million in public funding. This measure increased pressure on the budget with analysts arguing that it was unsustainable and did not end homelessness in the UK city of London.
Worth noting is the fact that homelessness in the UK is a complex challenge that does not occur at one level. It involves a multitude of factors that continue to interact at various levels. This has made it difficult for it to be properly described as often there is no standard way of defining the issue.
Moreover, the phenomenon is difficult to monitor (Fitzpatrick et al., 2012). Tackling homelessness in the UK may require the use of multiple strategy since no single approach could ever deal with the problem conclusively. This proposal outlines the need to assess the role of social services as one of the approaches used in mitigating homelessness in the UK and its effectiveness in addressing the challenge in London over the past 10 years.
1.1 The Problem of Homelessness in the UK
A less discussed avenue that could help the United Kingdom deal with homelessness is the use of social services. According to Fitzpatrick et al. (2011), homelessness, especially at its onset, is usually a combination of a number of factors that, overall, contribute to the wider issue.
These factors include, cases of alcohol and substance dependence, poor parenting in most households, commercial sex work, drug trafficking, child abuse and other related crimes. However, the use of social work in mitigating homelessness in the UK has not been widely applied as a tool for driving reform and changing the narrative in the country (Belcher et al., 2005).
According to Crisis (2012), children bear the greatest consequences of homelessness in the UK and elsewhere as it affects their general health and mental wellbeing. The reason for this can be attributed to the fact that stressful and traumatic events in the lives of children at the early stages of their lives leads to emotional distress. This could manifest itself through behavioural changes as they grow older.
In addition, the academic progression of children is greatly hampered since children from such backgrounds normally have poor cognitive abilities. More distressing is the fact that less than a third of children from the homeless population get to receive professional help, which may cause these children to be homeless themselves in the future hence creating a vicious cycle.
1.2 Research Aim
The study will seek to highlight the issues and perspectives surrounding the subject of homelessness in the UK and how social services could play a role in mitigating effects and stopping it from spreading even further.
2.0 Homelessness Mitigation in the UK
Homelessness in the United Kingdom has received a lot of attention in recent years owing to its effect on citizens and the wider image of the UK. The subject has received wide media coverage and has been debated on several occasions at the UK parliament.
In fact, the subject has found its way into political party manifestos such as Theresa May’s Conservative party which pledged to halve rough sleeping by the year 2022 and eliminate homelessness in the UK altogether before 2027 (Fitzpatrick et al., 2018).
Staying true to this pledge, the Prime Minister has established a high-level Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce which works hand in hand with an expert Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel to address the challenge (Bramley & Fitzpatrick et al., 2018). Perhaps the biggest reason for this action stems from the fact that homelessness in the United Kingdom eats into public funds and is estimated to cost the UK government more than £1 billion annually.
However, these efforts seem not to have had a significant impact on reducing the cases of homelessness in the UK as according to statistics by the Homelessness Organization, UK (2018), the national total estimates of rough sleepers is up by 169 per cent since the year 2010.
2.1 What are the Causes of Homelessness?
In a bid to tackle the issue of homelessness in the UK, a plethora of studies have sought to understand the subject in great detail and have concluded that homelessness is a consequence of two issues; individualistic and structural factors.
Individualistic factors include issues related to the individual’s behaviours and vulnerabilities which contribute towards homelessness. These issues include mental health problems and drug and substance abuse. Structural factors include issues that relate to poverty, the housing market, and unemployment (Johnson et al., 2015).
It is worth noting that the individualistic and structural factors are in some ways interrelated. For instance, according to Marmot & Bell (2012), poverty has a strong causal effect on mental health. In this regard, there is strong evidence that suggests that poverty as a consequence of deindustrialization has an effect on contributing to rising instances of drug and substance abuse which is a behaviour that could easily contribute towards homelessness (Bramley et al., 2015).
2.2 Law and Legislation on Homelessness in the UK
The UK government has, over the years, been making conscious steps aimed at eradicating homelessness in the United Kingdom. In 1977, the UK parliament passed the Housing Act which required authorities to make reasonable steps to protect individuals facing an imminent threat of homelessness from losing their accommodation (Hutchinson, 2015). In this regard, this bill required local authorities to be more proactive and less reactive in the prevention of homelessness by taking steps aimed at minimizing the risk of homelessness in the UK.
Most recently, the UK parliament introduced the Homelessness Reduction Act which came into effect on the 27th of April, 2018 (Varle, 2018). This act placed a new duty on the local authorities to work on a more preventive framework rather than a reactive framework in a bid to improve the outcomes of government efforts and shift the focus from reactionary efforts of managing the crisis.
However, it is worth noting that these pieces of legislations in the past have often proved unreliable owing to the fact that they do not give much weight to the causative agents contributing to the increase in cases of homelessness in the UK.
Therefore, it is imperative that there be a more integrated approach to managing the situation from a crisis driven approach to a more strategic and prevention targeted approach that goes to the root of the problems (Tabner, 2010).
2.3 Social Services for Homelessness Mitigation in the United Kingdom
The use of social services has largely been underutilized in the management of cases of homelessness in the UK. As stated before, cases of homelessness may be as a result of individualistic or structural factors. Whereas structural factors play a key role in contributing to the wider issue, it is perhaps correct to argue that individualistic factors play the biggest role in contributing to cases of homelessness (Tabner, 2010).
Issues such as troubled childhoods, mental health issues, drug and substance abuse, domestic violence, and financial mismanagement remain top amongst the issues contributing to cases of homelessness in the UK (Homeless Link, 2018).
According to the UK Department for Communities and Local Government (2017), there exists a code of guidance that identifies the three stages at which the issues relating to homelessness can be prevented. They include, the early identification stage, the pre-crisis intervention stage, and the prevention of recurring cases stage. The early identification stage includes making early steps to identify potential candidates at risk of homelessness in the UK in order to ensure that adequate measures are taken to prevent the loss of their accommodation.
The pre-crisis intervention phase involves giving advice and mediation services such as initiating negotiations with owners of apartments to allow these individuals at risk of losing their home more time to sort out their issues. The prevention phase includes taking steps aimed at preventing homelessness.
Social workers could prove pivotal in the enforcement of guidelines for reducing homelessness in the UK as the objectives of the Department for Communities and Local Government fall within the purview of the activities of social workers. Therefore, they could play a role of ensuring that early warning signs are noted beforehand in order to have them resolved before they become issues of grave concern.
However, the use of social services in tackling homelessness in the UK has largely been underutilized for a very long time. Hence, this forms part of the reasons why social work will be the focus of the proposed study in the hope that its value in homelessness mitigation will be appreciated.
2.4 Research Questions
- What is the extent of homelessness in the UK and what are its dynamics?
- What is the role of social services in mitigating homelessness in the UK?
- What are the gains of incorporating social services in dealing with homelessness in the UK?
3.0 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
The research methodology for this study will be based on the Onion Model as described by Saunders et al. (2009), which proposed that research should be approached from a perspective that will give unbiased findings that go beyond reproach.
Therefore, this research methodology will be carried out in six steps as laid out by Saunders et al. (2009) in order to get a detailed data analysis framework that makes it easier for the interpretation of data.
The research design in this study will be based on the interpretivist philosophy, which sees the universe as a socially constructed environment and paves way for the adoption of descriptive analysis (Bazeley, 2013).
Figure 1: The research onion model. Adopted from Saunders et al. (2009)
3.1 Research Approach
There exists two approaches that studies can use in the carrying out of research, they include, the deductive or inductive approach. The Inductive approach is concerned with the making of observations with the aim of getting an in-depth understanding of the variables in the study and their relationship.
Deductive approach, on the other hand, relies upon the body of knowledge that exists in order to approve or disapprove the theories that will arise during this research. This study will, therefore, rely on a deductive approach in order to understand the role of social workers in mitigating the effects of homelessness in the UK.
3.2 Research Purpose
This study will focus on the impact of social services in dealing with homelessness in the UK. Homelessness is eating deeply into the UK’s social wellbeing and is expected to continue to weigh a significant burden on the country’s budget in the coming decade.
However, it is worth noting that the use of social services in tackling the challenge and the factors that lead to the wider issue is largely underused. Therefore, it is imperative that this approach is investigated further in order to understand the various dynamics of the problem and how social services can help in homelessness mitigation in the UK and it’s eradication.
3.3 Research Strategy
This paper proposes the use of data triangulation and a descripto-exploratory research strategy in order to achieve the set objectives. The exploratory approach will be used to explain the phenomenon under observation and also to capture new insights from research.
On the other hand, descriptive research will be useful in formulating an accurate picture and understanding on the issue being investigated. The triangulation of information from different sources will be done so as to ensure that their individual input is captured hence increasing the validity of the entire study (Benz, 2014)
3.4 Data Collection Methods
The study will make use of both qualitative and quantitative data collected from various secondary sources. The researcher will devise an inclusion criteria that will ensure that the most credible and relevant secondary sources of information on homelessness in the UK and the use of social services for homelessness mitigation in the United Kingdom are selected for the study. This will enhance the authority and credibility of the study’s findings.
Surveying as a research method will be imperative as it will provide the ground for the selection of the most favourable sources of quantitative and qualitative information (Saunders et al., 2009). Also, this will help in the description of the problem of study and the study’s findings.
3.4.2 Data Analysis
The selected secondary sources will undergo three stages of evaluation in order to select the most appropriate data for the study. This will allow the researcher to draw meaningful information and make credible conclusions (Craig, 2009). Information from various sources will be gathered in line with the objectives of the study.
The data collected in the study will be interpreted through statistical and descriptive analyses in order to identify the themes and data patterns. At this stage, data will be scrutinized in order to establish the impact of social services in the mitigation of homelessness in the UK.
3.5 Ethical Issues
This study will not involve human participants in the data collection process hence it is unlikely that ethical challenges will be encountered. However, acknowledgement of the sources of data used will be adhered to so in order to prevent unwanted instances of plagiarism.
Read a related case study of homelessness and social services in Croydon, London
Bazeley, P. (2013). Qualitative Data Analysis: Practical Strategies. 1st ed. London: SAGE Publications.
Benz, C. and Newman, I. (2014). Mixed Methods Research: Exploring the Interactive Continuum. 1st ed. Southern Illinois: SIU Press.
Belcher, J. R., Deforge, B. R. and Zanis, D. A. (2005). Why has the Social Work Profession Lost Sight of How to End Homelessness? Journal of Progressive Human Services, 16(2) pp. 5–24
Bramley, G., Fitzpatrick, S., Edwards, J., Ford, D., Johnsen, S., Sosenko, F. & Watkins, D. (2015). Hard Edges: Mapping Severe and Multiple Disadvantage. London: Lankelly Chase Foundation.
Bramley, G. & Suzanne Fitzpatrick (2018). Homelessness in the UK: Who is Most at Risk? Housing Studies, 33(1), pp. 96-116
Crisis (2012) Research Briefing: Young, Hidden and Homeless. London: Crisis
Craig, D. V. (2009). Action Research Essentials. Retrieved from http://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781118570234/
Department for Communities and Local Government (2017). “Draft Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities.” Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/ government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/652343/Draft_ Homelessness_Code_of_Guidance.pdf
Fitpatrick S. et al. (2018). “The Homelessness Monitor: England 2018” Retrieved from https://www.crisis.org.uk/media/238700/homelessness_monitor_england_2018.pdf
Fitzpatrick, S., Johnsen, S. and White, M. (2011). Multiple Exclusion Homelessness in the UK: Key Patterns and Intersections. Social Policy and Society, 10(4), pp. 501–12
Hutchinson, S., Page, A., & Sample, E. (2015) Rebuilding Shattered Lives: The Final Report. London: St Mungo’s.
Homeless Link (2018) “Preventing Homelessness before it Begins: Case Studies from the Homelessness Sector.” Retrieved from https://www.homeless.org.uk/sites/default/files/siteattachments/Prevention%20research%202018.pdf
Johnson, G., Scutella, R., Tseng, Y. P. & Wood, G. (2015) Entries and Exits from Homelessness: A Dynamic Analysis of the Relationship Between Structural Conditions and Individual Characteristics AHURI Final Report No 248. Melbourne: AHURI.
Marmot, M. & Bell, R. (2012) Fair Society, Healthy Lives. Public Health, 126(1), pp. S4–S10
Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2009). Research Methods for Business Students. 4th ed. Harlow: FT Prentice Hall