The Labour governments (1997-2010) made a series of significant interventions in street homelessness during their time in office which dramatically reduced the numbers sleeping rough in the UK (achieving its target of a two-thirds reduction in less than two years). However, between 2010 & 2019 street homelessness has increased by 169%, rising to levels not seen since the 1990s. My research aims to examine the measures undertaken by New Labour; their political genesis in ‘third way’ politics, the impact of Labour’s changes in the mechanisms of government and relationship with the non-statutory sector, the targeting and commitment of resources, changes in working practice, hostel provision, supported housing programmes, relationship to the criminal justice system, and preventative measures both within the homelessness directorate and through the wider social exclusion agenda. The research will also explore the reasons why the dramatic reduction in rough sleeping has manifestly not been maintained. It will evaluate the critique that Labour’s programme was primarily ‘revanchist’ aiming only to render homelessness invisible, and did not address the long-tern causes of homelessness. It will also evaluate the view that Labour’s imposition of ‘coercive strategies’ failed to take account of the needs and preferences of homeless people themselves leading to inappropriate resettlement and undermined the independence and creativity of the voluntary sector. Extensive use of oral history will be undertaken, eliciting accounts from key decision makers in government and the voluntary sector, workers delivering the programme and will ensure the prominence of the voices of homeless people themselves.
At this preliminary stage it is my view that academic discourse has failed to pay attention to the scale of New Labour’s achievements in reducing street homelessness, paying more attention to its failures on the margin than the concrete achievements, investment of political will, resources and the innovative methods of practice that it initiated. It is possible that a model for effective action has already been developed with direct implications for current social policy. This neglect is also curiously present in New Labour’s own accounts of its time in office, unmentioned in Blair’s memoirs, and ignored in wider evaluations of Labour’s term in office. It seems possible that Labour’s intervention in homelessness can be used as a lens to examine the functioning of ‘third way’ ideology in practice, and I tentatively suggest that it could form a repost to the skepticism now surrounding assessments of New Labour’s achievements in office