You are here:

This research examines the impact of the New Labour government on street homelessness across their three terms of office from 1997 to 2010. Street homelessness had risen to unprecedentedly high levels when Labour took office in 1997 - with people bedding down in every shop doorway in Central London, and the same miserable sight of destitution playing out across the whole of the UK. Under New Labour, the number of rough sleepers was reduced by two-thirds by 2001, and reached its lowest ever recorded level in 2010. Homelessness ceased to be a visible problem. Since 2010 homelessness has risen by 169%. Two plausible hypothesis could explain this - Labour's programme was considered and effective, but has subsequently been squandered, or Labour's achievements were illusory- had merely hidden the homeless from sight (the 'revanchist' hypothesis) but not addressed the long-term problem.

Using the oral testimonies of ninety people (from government ministers to frontline workers) involved in the planning and delivery of Labour's programme, this research concludes that Labour’s achievements in reducing street homelessness were not revanchist, but real and significant. It shows that Labour enacted a coherent and sustained programme, that focused on developing long-term solutions to rough sleeping. To achieve this, Labour acted in accord with their much-derided 'third way' approach. Along the way, Labour transformed both local government's engagement with single homeless people, and the scale, scope and working practices of the voluntary sector.

These achievements have been largely forgotten, unmentioned either in popular histories of the period, or in scholarly accounts of New Labour. This research challenges the common characterisation of New Labour as a party lacking an ideology and primarily focussed on their public and press image. It also calls for more attention to be paid to the actual delivery of social policy aims, arguing that the process of transferring rhetoric into policy, and policy into actual improvements in the quality of citizens’ lives, is perhaps the most important task of government, which is woefully neglected in the writing of political histories.

From the late 1980s-1996, David Christie ran projects for rough sleepers in London and Bristol. Among other things, he wrote a utopian novel ‘Sweden’ in 2017 before returning to academia in 2018. David completed his Masters on squatting in the 1970s and his PhD at the University of Birmingham. During lockdown, he founded the ‘Pandemic Perspectives’ group—a multi-disciplinary international network of scholars that debated the impact of COVID-19 which resulted in two seminar series and a conference in 2021. David was one of the editors on the peer-reviewed journal that came out of the conference.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend but booking in advance is required.