Homelessness and Social Policy

Homelessness and Social Policy

Homelessness and Social Policy

Homelessness and Social Policy


The contributors offer a dispassionate analysis of the problem of homelessness and the policy responses it has so far invoked. They review theoretical and legal conceptualisations of homelessness, and present extensive statistical analyses.


John Greve

Homelessness in Britain is not a recent phenomenon. There has always been a substantial minority of people who, for a variety of reasons, have been unable to provide or retain housing for themselves or their families. The patterns of causes have changed over time, but poverty has persisted as a key factor.

For centuries a major responsibility of the parishes and, later, the Poor Law system, was to provide shelter for homeless people. This responsibility was transferred to the new local authority welfare departments in 1948. Significantly, the duties and powers of these departments were defined by the National Assistance Act 1948, which inherited and perpetuated much of the philosophy and some of the practices of the hated Poor Law (see Chapter 2, this volume, for a more detailed account).

It was not until 1977 that local authority housing departments were given explicit responsibility for rehousing those homeless families and individuals who, after assessment, were deemed to have met the statutory criteria for determining whether or not they were homeless (see Chapter 1, this volume, which also considers how homelessness has been defined).

There was a sudden flood of homelessness after the war, from 1947 to 1951, notably in London. The causes were associated with the war and the widespread confusions and dislocations created by the attempts to adjust rapidly to peacetime conditions. Feelings of disappointment and resentment swelled, and the ‘squatting’ of unoccupied buildings spread swiftly. It was to recur twenty years later, again as a response to rising homelessness.

During the war, house building had ceased almost totally for five years, while hundreds of thousands of houses had been destroyed or made uninhabitable by bombing. Others had become unfit through

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