Assessing the new homelessness strategies introduced by the Homelessness Act 2002; are the housing needs of the young homeless in the UK closer to being adequately addressed?
The proposed research will examine the impacts of the Homelessness Act 2002 on homelessness policy and practice throughout the United Kingdom, with specific focus towards the housing needs of those homeless persons aged 16-25. The research will examine the national context within which the Act was framed, highlighting the key motivations for reforming homelessness legislation and examining responses to the proposed changes. The research will then examine the principal provisions of the 2002 Act, and by drawing on the results of contemporary surveys, such as those conducted by MORI polls, and also recent research into youth homelessness, such as those commissioned and produced by NGO’s specialising in issues of homelessness e.g. Crisis, Shelter, the proposed research project will then explore the impact of the 2002 Act on local government youth homelessness policies and practices and on the extent to which youth homelessness is still regarded as a problem. The proposed research will draw on the conclusions made and suggest additional measures that are required in order for the problems in meeting the needs of the young homeless in the UK to be tackled effectively in the future, including changes to the ways by which the performance of youth homelessness initiatives are indicated, monitored and evaluated.
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The reason that I have chosen the evaluation of the Homelessness Act 2002 as the subject of my proposed research is two-fold:
1] There is a general lack of academic review/discourse regarding the contents of the Homelessness Act 2002,
2] The importance of such a review has recently been highlighted by a government select committee in their report on Homelessness [A recently published government select committee report recommended that the Government conduct “a review of the workings of the 2002 Act to identify the weak spots.”
The reasons that I have chosen to focus and limit this evaluation to the housing needs of the 16-25 year old homeless is for the following reasons:
1] This age range forms 25% of the total number of ‘rough sleepers’ in the UK, and as such must be a major target of any initiatives designed to tackle the UK’s homelessness problems, including those contained within the Homelessness Act 2002. A focus on this youth section of the UK’s homeless population, and an investigation into how it has been affected by such initiatives will therefore prove an excellent way of evaluating one of the key tasks of the Homelessness Act 2002.
2] Until recently, the extent of homelessness among 16 to 25 year olds, in England particularly, has been unknown. Research conducted by York University and commissioned by the charity Centrepoint, published in 2004, was the first to actually publish a figure: The research showed that within this age band, up to 52,000 were without housing in England in 2003, 6,700 of these ‘sleeping rough’. These shocking figures brought the housing need of the young homeless to the attention of the media. Whilst the actual figures are themselves merely educated estimates, this increased public attention towards the 16-25 homeless population of the UK is a major reason for my choice to focus my proposed research project to this area.
3] Research which suggests that homelessness amongst 16-25 year olds has been on the increase over the last ten years highlights the importance of this key target area, and warrants an evaluation into whether the 2002 Act is proving any more successful than its predecessor in trying to meet the housing needs of the young homeless in the UK.
Recent academic research in the area of youth homelessness includes a study by Smith and Simister of methods of estimating youth homelessness, research by Crisis and the New Policy Institute into the numbers of non-statutory homeless in the UK, an analysis by Douglas and Gilroy looking at young women and homelessness and an analysis of what risks are most associated with youth homelessness conducted by Bruegel and Smith. There is however, as stated above, no current research published which attempts an evaluation of the success of the Homelessness Act 2002 in tackling the housing problems of homeless people aged 16-25 such as the one which I am suggesting in this research proposal.
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Critical Research Questions
Below I will set out the main critical research questions which shall form the focus of my proposed study. I shall also identify several subsidiary questions and issues which shall support the main body of my research.
Main pervasive questions to be addressed throughout my proposed dissertation:
- To what extent does current research suggest that the Homelessness Act 2002 has improved the situation of the UK’s young [16-25] homeless and the problems of their housing needs?
- In light of the current research, what reforms might be necessary, if any, either to the content or to the underlying rationale of the Act, in order to ensure that the Homelessness Act 2002 helps provide for the needs of the young homeless in the UK in the future?
Subsidiary/supporting questions to be addressed throughout the proposed dissertation:
- To what extent does the statutory definition of ‘homelessness’ as established by the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 and the 1996 Housing Act and developed by the Homelessness Act 2002, adequately describe all the urgent housing circumstances of young 16-25 year olds in the UK?
- To what extent do the lack of Monitoring provisions contained within the Homelessness Act 2002 result in the Act being applied by Local Authorities inconsistently, carelessly and in ways which do not achieve the fundamental objectives of the Act in relation to the housing needs of young homeless people aged 16-25?
- Are the performance indicators employed by the government to assess the success of Local Authority initiatives suitable methods by which to judge whether the provisions of the Homelessness Act 2002 are being successfully implemented?
- Is the category of ‘priority need’ contained within the Homelessness Act 2002 broad enough to ensure that the needs of all the young homeless are capable of being satisfied?
- To what extent does the Homelessness Act 2002 recognise that young people have diverse housing needs and ensure that Local Authorities avoid the ‘one size fits all’ approach which in the past has acted to decrease the supply and range of appropriate accommodation?
- Does the Homelessness Act 2002 give Local Authorities too much freedom with regard to homelessness strategy development and management, resulting in regional discrepancies in performance and application throughout the UK?
- Does the ‘Supporting People’ system, as introduced in April 2003, successfully complement the main objectives of the Homelessness Act 2002 in regards to meeting the housing needs of homeless people aged 16-25 in the UK?
The primary research methodology employed by this proposed research is a critical analysis of the Homelessness Act 2002, of primary research data [taken from surveys conducted by previous researchers], of secondary literature regarding the rationale of the Act, of secondary literature regarding alternative interpretations of the primary research data and of secondary literature regarding evaluations of local government youth-homelessness policy and practice.
Wherever possible, analyses of the primary data will attempt to reach quantitative conclusions, although in light of the unreliable quantified data available in this regard, these conclusions will only be used to support the more generalised qualitative conclusions which will be offered from the respective analyses of the Homelessness Act 2002 and of the secondary literature. It would not be appropriate in the context of my research proposal to attempt to offer anything other than general qualitative conclusions, as my proposed research does not purport to offer any insight into the relationship between specific independent variables; there are so many factors which come into play to influence whether a statute or a resulting policy are successful in meeting the housing needs of the young homeless, that a direct correlation would never be possible.
Equipped with the time and the resources, it would be highly desirable to conduct interviews with various relevant parties, such as chairmen of NGO’s and actual young homeless people throughout the UK to attempt to gauge what their perceptions are of the changes introduced by the Homelessness Act 2002, but within the context of this study, such interviews would act merely as a luxury which would add another dimension to the proposed research. Such interviews are neither essential nor practical and for these reasons I have chosen to reject conducting any of my own primary collection of data within this proposed research project.
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1] House of Commons ODPM: “Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Committee on Homelessness Third Report of Session 2004–05”
This Report is relevant to my proposed research in that it helps to justify that there is a need for analysis of the Homelessness Act 2002 in order to identify the weaknesses therein: “[we recommend] a review of the workings of the 2002 Act to identify the weak spots [of this legislation].”
2] CRISIS Report: Statistics on Homelessness. (SEU, July 1998) http://www.crisis.org.uk/pdf/HomelessStat.pdf
This resource is relevant to my research proposal in that it provides a reliable statistic as to the percentage of young [16-25] homeless people who make up the total number of ‘rough sleepers’ in the UK, which serves as a further illustration of the importance of conducting research focussed at this age range.
3] ‘52,000 youths have nowhere to live, study finds’ John Carvel, social affairs editor. Monday October 11, 2004. Guardian Newspaper.
This newspaper article demonstrates how the issue of youth homelessness has received recent media attention, and as such further supports my contention that the topic of this research proposal is one of public interest.
This resource contains information about the York University study conducted in 2004, which was the first to attempt an accurate estimate of the number of homeless youths aged 16-25 who were without housing in 2003. This source also asserts and referenced sources which strongly suggest that the number of young homeless aged 16-25 in Scotland has increased significantly over the last decade. In both of the above respects it is useful and relevant to this research proposal.
5] Smith and Simister: “Methods of estimating youth homelessness” 2001, DETR, UK.
This source is of relevance in that it provides an example of recent similar research, which again serves to illustrate that other academics are taking seriously the issues of youth homelessness and are of the opinion that such research is necessary and of public interest.
6] Crisis and the New Policy Institute “The numbers of non-statutory homeless in the UK” 2004
Like the previous resource, this source is of relevance in that it provides an example of recent similar research, which again serves to illustrate that other academics are taking seriously the issues of youth homelessness and are of the opinion that such research is necessary and of public interest.
7] Douglas A. and Gilroy R. (1994) 'Young women and homelessness'
The subject of the above study is more specific than the subject of this research proposal, and the content of the study was designed to address issues of homelessness which are unique to the physiology and behaviour of young homeless females e.g. the relationship between pregnancy and the number of incidences in which that pregnant homeless girl is reaccepted and supported by her family after they have discovered the pregnancy. It is only relevant as an example of similar research to illustrate that other academics are taking seriously the issues of youth homelessness and are of the opinion that such research is necessary and of public interest.
8] Bruegel I and Smith J (1999) Taking Risks. An Analysis of the Risks of Homelessness for
Young People in London. Peabody Trust/ Safe in the City. www.safeinthecity.org.uk
The above resource is a comprehensive analysis into the risks of homelessness for young people in London. The conclusions however are not limited to London, but must occur in all cities across the UK to a greater or lesser degree. The conclusions of this study are highly worrying, and serve as a strong example of the importance and immediate need to sort out the housing needs of the young homeless in the UK. In this way, this resource is highly relevant to my research proposal.
The target reader of my proposed research is anyone concerned with the future of homelessness in the UK in regard to the housing needs of those homeless persons aged 16-25. More specifically, a legislator might be interested in reading my proposed research as it would be one of the first studies actually conducted into the effectiveness of the Homelessness Act 2002 in combating the housing problems of the young homeless [aged 16-25] and it also will provide some suggestions for reform which a legislator could take on board when planning for new homelessness legislation.