How could new metrics help to end homelessness?

Homelessness remains one of the most pressing, some say growing, issues that policy makers face but a clear understanding of the causes is hampered by a lack of clear data. The ONS and Centre for Homelessness Impact have launched a consultation on a new set of homelessness indicators to better measure the factors that influence homelessness, such as housing, poverty, and relationships to try and find new ways to measure what areas are most at risk.  Here Hugh Stickland and Dr Ligia Teixeira set out the aims of the consultation and invite contributions. 

How did this project come about?

Hugh Stickland (HS) – At the Office for National Statistics, we want to provide an evidence base that gives practitioners and policy makers the insights they need to make better decisions and create lasting change. Homelessness statistics are collected and published in the four nations of the United Kingdom, however these statistics by themselves do not reveal the huge number of complex drivers which could be a factor.

We have already begun to look deeper into the causes and consequences of homelessness. Last year, we released experimental figures which estimated that 597 people who were homeless died in England and Wales in 2017. This tragic figure gives an idea of the scale of the issue but is not the whole picture.

Working with government and a broad range of support and outreach organisations, we are exploring how we can improve the quality of homelessness figures.

CHI can help to improve our understanding of homelessness. As a What Works Centre, they are well placed to draw on a range of expertise from academics, practitioners and international evidence and best practice.

Ligia Teixeira (LT) – The UK Government and devolved administrations have all made commitments to reduce homelessness and rough sleeping.

Attempts have been made to tackle homelessness, such as progressive legislation and the shift to prevention. Yet it’s been hard to move the needle, and despite the many good efforts, homelessness seems stubbornly high.

We know that we must tackle the root causes of homelessness like poverty, poor housing stock, and relationship breakdown in order to reduce homelessness sustainably.

If we are all working to a common and agreed description of ‘homelessness ended’ and of the indicators towards that goal, we will have more chance of success. We want to create a framework which allows any change to be sustainable and give a more holistic way of measuring success.

What will these new homelessness indicators look like?

HS – If you just look at numbers at a point in time you may well miss a whole range of factors which may well contribute to someone presenting as homeless. People tend to move in and out of sleeping rough and we don’t have great insights into those journeys.

Our current understanding suggests there can be many complicating factors that can lead to homelessness including private tenancies, poverty, job losses, family breakdowns and domestic abuse. It is important that we look at all of these in the round to provide a better evidence that helps policy makers, local authorities and charities recognise these signs early on.

LT – At the moment we lack tools that help us understand what all the relevant datasets collectively tell us about the state of homelessness across the UK. By collecting a range of sources we hope that we will be able to produce a product which helps to recognise areas which are succeeding or need improvement, in order to encourage sustainable policy solutions.

Whilst better use of data won’t end homelessness, it is a crucial part of the answer. Achieving it will require the collective push of many actors across a complex system but better use of data will be invaluable to give the power to make better choices.

Who is this consultation for?

LT – We want to talk with anyone who can give any insight or experience on this issue. From policy-makers, to practitioners, to academics, people with lived experiences and the wider public who might also have insights to offer.

HS – Anyone who has experience of working in and around homelessness can give us an insight into what some of the key measurements should be for these indicators.

We want to produce data which has value and relevance to policy and practice, so it can have a positive impact on society. We hope responses to this consultation will make sure that these indicators can have real world importance which can inform policy to help create lasting change.

How can people get involved?

HS – The consultation is now live on the Office for National Statistics consultation hub. We invite responses from any interested parties between now and July 10th, the closing date.

LT – Your feedback will help shape our approach to monitoring and reporting progress against the SHARE framework. We will publish a response within 12 weeks of the consultation end date. We’re also hosting a range of events across the country where we welcome more feedback on our consultation. Please join us in Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff, or London.

Dr Ligia Teixeira, is the CEO of the Centre for Homelessness Impact

Hugh Stickland is the ONS’s Head of Strategy and Engagement