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Published onDec 21, 2023


For too long the UK government has backed policy centred around an individualised theory approach to homelessness. The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed, for the first time within the UK, a testing of structural approaches to homelessness. Investigations into whether the UK governments response to homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic gives way to a shift from individualised stances on homelessness to structural ones, demonstrating a need for a theoretical and political shift. Addressing the below research questions: (1) What does the UK government's policy alterations to and within the COVID-19 pandemic tell us about their perspectives and framings of homelessness?; (2) To what degree has the UK government’s action shown a need for a shift in homelessness theory?; (3) To what extent has the UK government’s intervention within the COVID-19 pandemic proven a need for a restructuring of future policies surrounding homelessness? This research conducts a policy review centred around directed content analysis. This dissertation sets out the argument of the discarding of individualised homelessness theory not only within sociology but also within government policy. Providing suggestions to a continued reframing of homelessness as a structuralised issue. Focusing on policy shifts, and recommendations for an abandonment of individualised explanations. This paper supports itself through the success of structuralised policy-based intervention, recognised within the COVID-19 pandemic, with encouragement for a continuation of this approach.

Chapter 1: Introduction

The 30th of January 2020 marked the official beginning of the international public health emergency COVID-19 (WHO, 2020). The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the emergency after the transmission of novel coronavirus reached nineteen countries worldwide (WHO, 2020), the sheer extent of the virus however was yet to be made apparent. In the short space of six months, COVID-19 had spread to over two-hundred countries and territories worldwide, totalling nearly twenty-five million cases and eight hundred thousand deaths (WHO, 2020), these totals ever-growing still to date in 2021. As with many diseases and viruses, those already susceptible to vulnerability within society are predicted to suffer exponentially due to social disparities and inequalities of living conditions and health access (Quinn and Kumar, 2014). Due to homelessness exuberating these inequalities, governments worldwide felt a need to act. In an attempt to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, governments identified homelessness as a risk factor, resulting in attempts to mitigate the risk posed. Homelessness itself began to be seen as a risk factor regarding this spreading (Bernard, 2020) resulting in governmental policy action. Emergency policy changes and initiatives began with governments worldwide directing unprecedented amounts of funding to combat the health risk COVID-19 presented.

Actions taken by the French Government (2020), on the basis of the protection of homelessness as a priority, resulted in a dedicated 50 million (EUR) to accommodate those homeless in France during the pandemic. Similarly, the Canadian government pledged $157.5 million towards combatting homelessness strategy response to COVID-19 (Government of Canada, 2020). The UK government, much like other governments in the West, invested huge sums of money to keep rough sleepers safe and off the streets during coronavirus pandemic; with Wales alone pledging £10 million to accommodate the homeless (Welsh Government, 2020a). The threat being not only to those in the extremely vulnerable position of poverty, but also the threat of spreading of the virus to the wider public, resulted in speedy action being taken to combat homelessness.

This action taken in countries including the UK, is historically significant due to the same nations appearing to have static policies regarding people who live on the streets (Parsell, 2018). Countries often poses the stance of ‘poverty of ambition’ (Parsell, 2018), unmoved by the weighted evidence of health consequences to homelessness, and interventions to address it. In 2018 the mean age at death for homeless men was 45 years of age, for women as young as 43 years old in England and Wales. A shocking statistic when compared to the general population; the mean age of death being 76 years of age for men and 81 years of age for women (Office for National Statistics, 2018). However, with the onset of the pandemic, for the first time, homelessness posed a threat to not only those suffering from homelessness but to the wider public, resulting in a dramatic policy shift to combat homelessness. These changing policies shall provide the evidence needed for the shifting of the framing of homelessness, both in theory and policy, from an individualised stance to a completely structural one.

Policy framing within neoliberal societies, such as the UK, have consistently framed homelessness as an individualised issue (Smith, 2005). Charity organisations within the UK have campaigned for this to shift with regards to the government’s perspective on homelessness; their persistent focus on including an individualised stance has detrimental effects to policy making (Mackie, Johnsen, and Wood, 2017). Through the analysis of the UK governments policy response to tackling homelessness within the COVID-19 pandemic, this research aims to demonstrate the framing of homelessness within the UK today and highlight the importance of a shift regarding how homelessness is framed following the pandemic. By examining the policies implemented pre and during the COVID-19 pandemic, this research demonstrates the ineffectiveness of an individualised approach to homelessness. The causation of homelessness shall be addressed, with a focus on a much-needed policy shift within the UK. Evidence in favour of the need to move away from individualised ideas of homelessness, towards policies surrounding structuralised issues to combat homelessness for good.

Chapter 2: Background Theory and Policy

The following chapter addresses sociological theory surrounding homelessness. Structural theory, being the central theory of this dissertation, with contesting theories to provide background to analysis conducted within this research. Furthermore, analysis surrounding these theories will be utilised to demonstrate a need for the conduction of this research. In the latter half of this chapter, policy action taken by the UK government surrounding homelessness and the COVID-19 pandemic will be explained. These policies, and their theoretical underpinning, shall bolster the analysis conducted later within this paper. Hence it is important they are clearly stated before analysis can go underway.

As highlighted throughout the first half of the forthcoming chapter, homelessness theory is represented as ‘a contested, and politically and morally charged, enterprise’ (Farrugia and Gerrard, 2016, p270). Divergent theories offer rather simplistic views of homelessness as ‘either a housing or a welfare problem, caused by either structural or by individual factors, with homeless people deemed either deserving or undeserving’ (Neale, 1997, p48). These divergent theories take upon three major stances which fuel research: structural theory, individualised/agency theory, and new orthodoxy. Structural theory, being the theory, this dissertation intends to favour, shall be the first theory addressed.

2.1: Structural Homelessness Theory

Structural homelessness theory gives a macro-structural approach to an explanation of homelessness (Fitzpatrick, 2005); this approach locates homelessness in a broader social and economic structure of each society. Within this framework of understanding, the causation of homelessness is located beyond the individual, with focus being given to structural explanations; examples of causation being adverse housing and labour markets, rising levels of poverty, unemployment issues, and increasing family fragmentation (Fitzpatrick, 2005; Johnson et al, 2015; Stephens et al, 2010). Explanations are centred around structural issues, those in which the individuals have little to no control over. Policy when centred around structural theory requires intervention. Suggestions such as subsides to the housing market, or provision of temporary or permanent housing, are all prime examples of structural policy response (Neale, 1997). Evidence in support of structural homelessness theory can be found within the disparity of homelessness within the UK itself, and in comparison, with other western countries (Bramley and Fitzpatrick, 2018; Stephens and Fitzpatrick, 2007). Homelessness within the UK is not evenly distributed across the population, the odds of experiencing homelessness are systematically structured around a set of identifiable social and structural factors outside an individuals’ control (Bramley and Fitzpatrick, 2018). The UK however, alongside the US, has a significantly higher level of lifetime homelessness compared to other western countries such as Belgium, Germany, and Italy (Bramley and Fitzpatrick, 2018). Both the UK and the US have higher levels of poverty and income inequality compared to their western counterparts, offering insight into why lifetime homelessness may be more prevalent within their societies (Bramley and Fitzpatrick, 2018). This leads to support for the hypothesis that countries with benign social and economic conditions consist of lower overall homelessness prevalence (Stephens and Fitzpatrick, 2007). Through the UK having high levels of life-time homelessness, there have been several studies into the lives of said homeless (Mabhala et al, 2016; Reeve, 2011). As we can see from some of the above examples, homelessness within sociology is often looked through a structural lens, this however is not reflected within policy traditions within the UK, which still consist of elements focusing on an individualised approach (Mackie, Johnsen, and Wood, 2017). The UK consistently takes on a crisis related response to homelessness which ignores the structural roots of homelessness (Mackie, Johnsen, and Wood, 2017). This research intends to make this ignorance impossible. To aid understanding of the contesting theory addressed within this research, individualised homelessness theory shall be discussed below.

2.2: Individualised/ Agency Homelessness Theory

Individualised or agency theory are both centred around the homeless person themselves and their actions in causing their own homelessness. These two explanations are centred on the personal characteristics that a homeless person possesses (Fitzpatrick, 2005). In separating the two explanations, agency theory carries a rather outdated view of homelessness, centred around the idea of an underclass; the homeless are considered blameworthy for their own homelessness, stereotyped as ‘deviants, dossers, alcoholics, vagrants, and tramps’ (Neale, 1997, p49). These stereotypes remained prevalent until the 1960’s, however, shifts in culture resulted in individualistic explanations becoming more favourable. Still centred around blameworthiness, individualistic theories focus on personal vulnerabilities and behaviours of homeless people themselves, with a greater focus on mental illness and substance abuse (Benjaminsen and Bastholm Andrade, 2015; Johnson et al, 2015). The homeless in individualised theory can also be categorised into an explanation of personal failure, this explanation still adopts a blaming approach, but it allows for a pity worthy plea for ‘rescuing’. The homeless considered under this strand of individualistic theory are people who become homeless due to personal failure or inadequacy. Those in this category are often seen ‘worthy of humanitarian assistance, including casework or psychiatric treatment, for them to function ‘normally’ within society’ (Neale, 1997, p49). Although a helping hand is suggested within this approach, homeless people are still categorised into being worthy or unworthy of assistance. What this means for the causation of homelessness, however, is a focus on the blaming of individuals for their own homelessness with no regard for structural causes. This blameworthiness theory has historically been rejected by social commentators and theorists in the past, however, this rejection has not been reflected in policies surrounding homelessness in the UK today (Mackie, Johnsen, and Wood, 2017). The prevalence of this theory influencing policy shall be the critique of the UK governments actions pre-pandemic addressed within this dissertation. Although evidence surrounding individualised theory has been continuously critiqued by academics (Fitzpatrick, 2005), there has still been a framing of homeless in this way which has affected policy making decisions within the UK (Mackie, Johnsen, and Wood, 2017). A call for considerations to scrap this individualised stance to policy will be central to this work.

The combination of both structural and individualised theories to homelessness have been the foundations for a more nuanced consideration of homelessness which shall now be discussed.

2.3: New Orthodoxy Theory

Coined by Pleace (2000) as the ‘New Orthodoxy’, this theoretical approach to homelessness is one which incorporates both structural and individualised issues surrounding homelessness and its causation. This theory views homelessness as multidimensional (Somerville, 1992), with the task of balancing individual and structural causational factors to create the orthodoxy or consensus (Farrugia and Gerrard, 2016). Unlike individualised or structural theory explanations, which lend themselves to an either/or approach, the new orthodoxy sees a complex interlinking between the two (Bramley and Fitzpatrick, 2018). This emergent theory weaves together both macro-structural and individual factors in its explanation of homelessness (Fitzpatrick et al, 2000), ‘reinforcing the potential interconnectedness between structural and more personal or interpersonal causes of homelessness’ (Bramley and Fitzpatrick, 2018, p99). This is a call for both structural and individualised help regarding policy intervention. Although making a strong case for the use of both theories, this research aims to demonstrate the need for a central focus on structural issues, evidence for this shall be laid out within chapter 5.

Addressing the three key theories above is central to the understanding of this dissertation, as it sets out the theory underpinning policy intervention within the UK. It also allows for an understanding of theories which back suggested policy intervention which this dissertation shall discuss. Further theories, addressed below, set the scene for additional analysis of policy intervention pre and during the pandemic.

2.4: Culture of Homelessness

Situated within a pathway framework (Anderson and Tulloch,2000), Ravenhill (2008) sought to explain homelessness as a culture of sorts, contesting that the focus on causation and triggers has overlooked the existence of a culture of homelessness. The culture of homelessness seeks to explain how those marginalised from mainstream society seek out their own counterculture against the mainstream which has isolated them (Ravenhill, 2008). To become homeless means that ‘rather than being made to dress, act and behave in a manner compatible with mainstream society, they instead choose to create a society in which they are the norm’ (Ravenhill, 2008, p154), this is, according to Ravenhill, in hope of finding meaning for individuals alienated from society. Through adopting this counterculture of homelessness individuals become trapped in said culture, mainstream society becomes hostile and almost impossible to return too (Ravenhill, 2008). Ravenhill (2008) argues for intervention that encourages the leaving behind of this culture, which counterbalances and protects those existing within it. Although this theory lends an insight into why homelessness can be so hard to escape, it also falls under an individualised style of viewing homelessness, this can be found through the idea of choosing this counterculture, as if homelessness is a choice. This contradicts this dissertations argument of the discarding of individualised theory; however, it allows for a grounding of policies based on a counterculture rhetoric. Further analysis into why the UK holds these damaging individualised views of homelessness can be explained through not only the counterculture rhetoric but also through the persistence of neoliberalism.

2.5: Neoliberalism and Homelessness

Neoliberalism has been the premise of UK society since the late 20th century, its focus on privatisation, politics and free markets have had a drastic effect on how homeless people are not only treated but also how they are defined. During the post-war period in the UK there was a prominent shift from individualised views of homelessness to structural explanations (Fitzpatrick, 2005). Although considered one step closer to structurally solving homelessness, a shift in political opinion towards a neoliberal state resulted in resurgent forms of criminalisation and spatial exclusion of the homeless (Mitchell, 1997). This shift driven by ‘revanchist’ politics, politics bent on ‘taking back the streets’ (Smith, 1996) for either private capital or the white middle classes, has had drastic implications for policy surrounding homelessness. A neoliberal state promotes the idea of privatisation and free markets, what this means for the housing market is that it can fluctuate greatly. The annual housing price in the UK ‘rose sharply in the latter part of 2020, to a high of 7.6% in November 2020, considerably above the rates typically seen over the last two years, and the highest the rate has been since June 2016’ (ONS, 2021). This instability offers little to no security for renters who come under hard times. An increase in the selling off, of social housing stocks and low welfare benefit are described as causal factors in the creation of contemporary homelessness within the UK today (Fitzpatrick et al, 2000). Along with privatisation, neoliberalism, and its revanchist politics there has been an introduction of further social exclusion of those that suffer from homelessness. Within the neoliberal city, revanchist politics have construed marginalised groups, such as the homeless, as taking over and degrading urban spaces (Smith, 1996). Revanchist politics in turn emphasises the need to take back these spaces and restore the city for a better quality of life for ordinary people (Clarke and Parsell, 2020). These effects are shown within two major areas. Firstly, that of punitive laws aimed against the homeless, these laws effectively criminalise homelessness, achieved through the illegalisation of life on the streets, such as anti-camping laws, begging, sleeping in public spaces, or loitering in spaces of consumption (Mitchell, 1997; Snow and Mulcahy, 2001). ‘The DeltaPoll study, which surveyed more than 3,000 people, (…) revealed that forces across the country (the UK) have made over 8,500 arrests under the Vagrancy Act (1824) in the last five years’ (Crisis, 2020a). These laws exuberate marginalisation due to an increase in contact with the criminal justice system for the homeless (Stuart, 2016; Walsh, 2011). The second area neoliberalism and revanchist politics take affect is within solutions to homelessness. Neoliberal imaging of the social world represents homelessness ‘as a discrete social problem caused by isolatable mechanisms and the rehearsal of problematic discourses of individual success and failure’ (Farrugia and Gerrard, 2016, p276), in combatting this social problem the social exclusion rhetoric is used. The ‘‘excluded’ are defined against an unexamined ‘included mainstream’. Consequently, policies aimed to ‘re-insert’ or ‘re-integrate’ the excluded into ‘the mainstream’ through a mixture of therapeutic and coercive interventions’ (Farrugia and Gerrard, 2016, p276) are utilised as the ‘cure’ to homelessness. These solutions however often take up a disciplinary approach to tackling homelessness and further exclude from prime urban spaces (Dozier, 2019; Mitchell, 2011).

Neoliberalism and revanchist politics leaves us in the position of pre-COVID-19. The political stance surrounding homelessness being centred around re-insertion, however marginalising those who do not conform further. Homelessness being seen as a personal failure, alongside anti-homeless architecture throughout, and failed policies to house the homeless. Resulting in a total of 4,266 people estimated by local authorities to be sleeping rough in England on any one typical night in autumn in 2019 (Homeless Link, 2019). During the pandemic however, the UK governments policies surrounding homelessness took on a drastic shift. Each country reacting in a similar way; with policies adopting a structural approach. These structural rooted policies shall now be discussed.

2.6: COVID-19: The UK’s Reaction

In addressing the UK’s policy response to homelessness, each countries response must be distinguished from one another due to fragmented government policies. Each countries policies to tackle homelessness and the pandemic shall be addressed below to give context to the research findings.


Initially, at the beginning of the first lockdown announcement within England, a letter and statement sent by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to all local authorities with the clear instruction to move everyone sleeping rough or in shared shelter to a self-contained safe place within two days; known now as the ‘Everyone In’ initiative (MHCLG, 2020a). This initiative was initially backed by £3.2 million for local authorities and £3.2 billion overall for councils assisting vulnerable people (MHCLG, 2020a). Following this, on the 24th of May 2020, the government accessed £160 million from a four-year budget to provide housing units for the homeless (MHCLG, 2020b). A further £10 million was announced on the 13th of October 2020 with regards to a Cold Weather Fund to support councils during the winter months to house the homeless in self-contained accommodation. Accompanied by a further £2 million for faith and community groups (MHCLG, 2020c). The second wave resulted in a further £15 million being allocated to accommodation for the homeless known as the ‘Protect Programme’ (MHCLG, 2020d). The government not only helped accommodate those already in a destitute position pre-pandemic, but also attempted to reduce those entering the same position during. Policies focusing on prevention in England showed a halt on evictions till 25th of June 2020, later being extended to the 20th of September 2020 (MHCLG, 2020e). The second lockdown marked an increase in notice period for evictions of a minimum of six months for notices issued between the 29th of August 2020 until 31st of March 2021 (MHCLG, 2020f).


The Scottish government also acted in their initial response to the pandemic. They provided funds of £350 million to local authorities with regards to support throughout the pandemic, this funding was made available to homelessness provisions (Scottish Government, 2020a). A further £1.5 million was also provided to the voluntary sector in supporting hotels in Glasgow and Edinburgh (Scottish Government, 2020a). Guidance was also issued to local authorities indicating that they had a public health duty to provide emergency accommodation to all homeless people (Scottish Government, 2020a). An extension to notices for evictions were also extended to a minimum of six months, with a further £10 million dedicated to loans and funding for tenant hardships (Scottish Government, 2020a). Changes were also made to the governments Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan with changes centred around prevention, settled housing options, Housing First initiatives, equality, and an overall person-centred approach (Scottish Government, 2020a). The phasing out of night shelters also with commitments to rehousing centres instead (Scottish Government, 2020b).


The Welsh government also took immediate action when faced with the pandemic. They allocated £10 million in funding to accommodate the homeless population across Wales (Welsh Government, 2020a). The government issued statements regarding a need to consider people at risk of homelessness as vulnerable in accessing needs (Welsh Government, 2020b). Strategies for ‘no one need return to the street’ have been backed by the Welsh government by £50 million with instructions to local authorities to create a plan for rapid rehousing (Welsh Government, 2020c). Increased notice periods and additional support for renters was also announced as a prevention tactic until the 31st of March 2021 (Welsh Government, 2020d).

All three countries took immediate action in tackling homelessness when faced with the risk of COVID-19, however only Scotland and Wales announced a need to continue with policies surrounding this help post-pandemic.

2.7: Conclusion

Through researching both theories surrounding homelessness, and governmental action within the COVID-19 pandemic, the drawing together of the two shall be the focus. Policies implemented during the pandemic appear to focus on a tackling of homelessness through governmental action (MHCLG, 2020a; Scottish Government, 2020a; Welsh Government, 2020a). This shows a structural underpinning to policies implemented, a stance which has never been seen before in the UK. Historically policies within the UK have centred around individualised underpinning, or a mixture of both individualised and structural, indicating a new orthodoxy approach (Mackie, Johnsen, and Wood, 2017). The pandemic saw a shift to total structural policies indicated in section 2.6. The analysis of these structural policies, and how these have re-framed homelessness, shall be explored within this dissertation. In introducing these policies for the first time, the UK government has offered a trial of a structural based approach to homelessness within the UK. The analysis of these approaches and their effectiveness allow for a rethinking of approaches to not only the policies surrounding homelessness, but also, theory centred around and the underpinning of these policies. This action taken by the government during the pandemic has offered the ability for a comparison of effectiveness of individual or structural causations and solutions to homelessness, resulting in a need for the resurfacing of these debates within sociology. Research questions addressed underneath intend for just that.

Chapter 3: Research Questions

The research questions aim to address a need for a reframing of homelessness by the UK government from an individualised stance or a new orthodoxy approach, to a totally structural one, reflected not only in attitudes of causation but in policy as well. The research questions below aim to do this through an analysis of UK governmental action pre and during the COVID-19 pandemic, with focus on pre-existing theory and how this underpins policy surrounding homelessness:

  • What does the UK government's policy alterations to and within the COVID-19 pandemic tell us about their perspectives and framings of homelessness? 

  • To what degree has the UK government’s action shown a need for a shift in homelessness theory?

  • To what extent has the UK government’s intervention within the COVID-19 pandemic proven a need for a restructuring of future policies surrounding homelessness?

Chapter 4: Methodology

This dissertation undertook an applied sociology approach (Scott and Shore, 1974), meaning the data gathered aims to be actionable and manageable to contribute to future policy making decisions (Etzioni, 1971) regarding homelessness. A policy review was conducted with the intent of informing on later policy related decisions concerning homelessness. Policies were also evaluated with regards to homelessness theory to demonstrate the effectiveness of structural based policies in tackling homelessness. Although the study is policy relevant, this is not considered a method, but more a choice of field (Scott and Shore, 1974), leading to a need of explanation of methodology addressed throughout this chapter. The following addresses how I utilised qualitative research methods to answer my three main research questions outlined in chapter 3. I discuss my chosen method and analysis, with consideration to philosophical underpinning, my own positionality, and ethical considerations.

4.1: Philosophical Standpoint

A philosophical standpoint is required when choosing methods in acquiring knowledge (Moon and Blackman, 2014). The chosen philosophical underpinning to this research is that of a qualitative approach. Qualitative research methods allow for the researcher to become immersed within their research, this allows for an insider’s view which in turn allows for an uncovering of meaning (Ochieng, 2009). Due to the nature of the research being related to an interpretation of policy, an interpretivist approach has been employed. Interpretivism takes on the view that the subject matter of the social sciences is fundamentally different from that of the natural sciences. The study of the social world therefore requires a different logic of research procedure (Bryman and Bell, 2007). For interpretivists, there is no one reality but a reality based on an individual’s perception and experience of the world around them (Robson, 2002). Interpretivists believe that in lessening the world to facts the real world is lost through a degrading to a reduced interaction of variables (Hughes and Sharrock, 1997). For this reason, interpretivist researchers observe aspects of the world and seek to discover patterns within it in relation to wider principles allowing for and interpretation of actors in relation to phenomena (Babbie, 2013; Easterby-Smith et al, 2002). This dissertation has adopted this approach through the belief that policy, although abstract itself, effects real people, and through studying this we can see its real implications in relation to wider society in the hope of improving it.

Under pinning this approach is a constructionist ontology; ontology is concerned with the nature and structure of the world and how this can be articulated, it asks the question: what exists? (Bryman, 2012). A constructionist ontological position ‘implies social phenomena and categories are not only produced through social interaction but that they are in a constant state of revision” (Bryman, 2012, p33). A constructionist ontology appeared appropriate due to this belief in constant revision, this constant revision demonstrated by pre and post pandemic. Epistemology concerns itself with the study of the nature of human knowledge and how it is acquired (Bryman, 2012). It questions what we accept as knowledge, how we know what we know, and its justification. An interpretive epistemology takes on the assumption that the social world and understanding of it can be achieved by ways of examination and interpretation by its participants (Mason and May, 2019). Rather than viewing interpretation as a bias, interpretivism holds this as its focal point (Mason and May, 2019). This holds relevance to this research as policy interpretation was vital to its conduction, interpretation is at the root of this dissertation and therefore and interpretivist epistemology is vital. How these philosophical underpinnings related to the chosen method within this research shall now be discussed in the second part of this chapter.

4.2: Chosen Method

To explore the aforementioned research questions, a directed content analysis approach method shall be applied. The main goal of content analysis is to ‘provide knowledge and understanding of the phenomenon under study’ (Downe-Wamboldt, 1992, p314), the phenomena in this case being policies related to homelessness pre and during the COVID-19 pandemic and how theory regarding homelessness underpins these policies. Research using content analysis allows for a flexible approach to analysing text data (Cavanagh, 1997), the text data used within this research being policies. Content analysis uses interpretations of text content through the ‘systematic classification process of coding and identifying themes or patterns’ (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005, p1277) within the data itself. The codes used within this research related to homelessness theory. Content analysis is often accompanied by qualitative interviews to further evidence the research, this study did not adopt this approach due to a focus being given to the policy review involved in this task, however this is an area which could be expanded on in the future to further this research. Directed content analysis refers to a method that intends to expand on theory (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005). In undergoing directed content analysis a researcher begins with a chosen theory with the intent on expanding or furthering evidence for said chosen theory (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005). Structural homelessness theory, the chosen theory in which this research intends to expand and provide evidence for. The UK governments tendency to ignore structural theory within their policies pre-pandemic shall be addressed, with a comparison to the affective structural policy employed during the pandemic. The intention of this to influence future policies surrounding homelessness. Using the existing homelessness theory and policy research, key concepts and variables will be initially coded into categories (Potter and Levine-Donnerstein, 1999), giving the bases for analysis which shall addressed in section 4.3.

On defining pre and during pandemic policies, policies post January 2020 shall be considered during the pandemic, due to the pandemic being declared during this month, and policies prior to this date shall be classed as pre-pandemic policies. On determining which UK governmental policies to address when conducting this research, a strict time frame of UK policies post 2016 was employed due to a five-year time frame being seen as manageable when dealing with homelessness policy. A short time frame was also seen as appropriate as the aim of this dissertation being centred around action taken regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, close attention to these policies could not have deployed had a larger scale time frame been used due to the capability offered within the time frame of this project. Further analysis comparing older policies and their affects and relationship with homelessness theory could be a way of furthering this research.

4.3: Analysis

In conducting the analysis of this research thematic content analysis was utilised due to its ability to code important themes within research (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005). New policy and policy shift regarding homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, were interpreted in relation to pre-existing theory underpinning our understanding of homelessness. This pre-existing theory was used to guide discussions and findings (Poole and Folger, 1981) using coding categories designed pre-analysis. This data was coded inductively to answer the research questions laid out at the beginning of this chapter. The policies and theories underpinning them guide the discussion of findings. Newly identified categories under each coding system offer either contradictory view of the phenomenon or further refine, extend, and enrich it (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005). Due to the development of a good coding scheme being central to the trustworthiness of content analysis (Folger, Hewes, and Poole, 1984), the initial codes shall be set out bellow. These codes were selected through the analysis of homelessness theory and the selected debates surrounding structural homelessness theory.

  • Structural Theory- for and against

  • Individualised Theory- for and against

  • Neoliberal State tendencies

  • Homelessness Framing

  • Policy changes during pandemic

These initial codes were used to analyse policy regarding homelessness and the pandemic. My own interpretation however was required, so the following section lays out my positionality to be as transparent as possible.

4.4: Positionality

No research occurs in a vacuum, therefore when undertaking such an interpretive piece of work, positionality must be considered as it impacts all aspects and stages of a research process (Holmes, 2020). The term positionality describes both my individual world view, the position I adopt when conducting research and my own social and political context (Foote and Bartell, 2011; Rowe, 2014). Little to no research can be value-free and this piece is no exception.

On reflecting on my own positionality when approaching this research, it would appear vital to declare that my views corroborate to more of a left political swing due to my upbringing in a working-class household. My view of research purpose is to take a people first approach when undertaking any form of research as I view social phenomena to exist through people, the society they create and their interactions in creating it (Bryman and Bell, 2007) For me, understanding the world can be located in the examination and interpretation of the people who live in said society (Bryman and Bell, 2007). In conducting this research, I selected a form of research that mirrored these personal views, lending itself to interpretivism. The intention behind all research I conduct is to show how real people are affected due to my interpretivist stance (Robson, 2002). In approaching homelessness, I believe this is the only way one can truly understand it. One must recognise the real people facing the practical effects of these policies. My aim is to reflect how policies and statistics are not just abstract ‘out-there’ things but how they have real consequences to real people (Snyder and Omoto, 2008). In linking theory and policy, two very abstract academic positions, I hope to draw light on their real consequences to real people. Although my positionality here will almost undoubtable influence my opinion, I have gone into this research with the intent on impartiality to minimise researcher bias. In doing so making this a key consideration when designing and carrying out this research (Smith and Noble, 2014) in order to uphold ethical standards of objectiveness.

4.5: Ethical Considerations

Due to the nature of this work being content analysis, there are little ethical considerations to consider. The policy focused approach means that the policies and statistics I am analysing will have been conducted and processed by governmental ethical considerations meaning they would have already gone through a strict ethical screening, meaning the only ethical risk my research would hold would be from myself. As previously mentioned within this chapter however I have undergone this research with the stance of objectivity to avoid research bias in the attempt to make this dissertation as ethical as possible.

Chapter 5: Findings and Discussion

In reviewing policies related to homelessness pre and during the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be impossible for this dissertation to discuss all areas related to these policies. However, attention shall be given to policies in which show a distinct move away from an individualised approach to homelessness. This aims to demonstrate not only their success in doing so, but also to display the UK governments persistence in the framing of homelessness as an individualised issue. Consideration shall also be taken for theories underpinning these views, with calls for a restructuring of said theories, to influence future policies surrounding homelessness. With the research questions in mind, this chapter aims to address each one in turn with reference to key themes interpreted from the UK governments policy intervention:

  • What does the UK government's policy alterations to and within the COVID-19 pandemic tell us about their perspectives and framings of homelessness? 

  • To what degree has the UK government’s action shown a need for a shift in homelessness theory?

  • To what extent has the UK government’s intervention within the COVID-19 pandemic proven a need for a restructuring of future policies surrounding homelessness?

5.1: Perspectives and Framing of Homelessness

Framing consists of using evidence to make deliberate choices with words and images to influence a perspective on a particular topic, this is often used negatively with regards to the homeless population (Crisis, 2020b). Pre-pandemic framings of homelessness centred themselves around an individualistic approach to homelessness; notions of poor choices and inevitability framing homelessness (Crisis, 2020b). Achieved through ideas rooted in ‘self-makingness’, indicating the individual to have made bad choices resulting in their homelessness, the ‘othering’ of the homeless, alongside homelessness being seen as only equating to rough sleeping, also missing prevention, and ‘fatalism’; all framing the homeless as individualised (Crisis, 2020b). Individuals and their circumstances were ignored, and only individual-level solutions were suggested in tackling the issue, with a refusal to acknowledge the possibility of wider systemic structural solutions (Crisis, 2020b). This persistent individualised framing of homelessness evident within policy and legislation surrounding homelessness (Mackie, Johnson, and Wood, 2017). Legislative frameworks were crisis-focused, with the needs of the homeless often being missed due to the idea that one cannot be helped until they are suffering (Mackie, Johnson, and Wood, 2017). Priority needed policies and a trend towards non-legislative innovations persisted, with money being invested into charities rather than prevention of homelessness (Mackie, Johnson, and Wood, 2017). Hostels and shelters were considered to be supporting the homeless, but again these were said to take on a crisis related response, and often fail those homeless people with complex needs, due to their inability to cope with the rigid rules and complicated environment (Mackie, Johnson, and Wood, 2017). Many opt out of these forms of support, either because they are seen to be too late in taking affect, or because of bad experiences within hostels and shelters (Mackie, Johnson, and Wood, 2017). Actions taken by the UK government however, during the pandemic, showed policy alterations shifting away from these traditional crisis-related responses highlighting a variation in the way homelessness has typically been framed.

Policy alterations, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, saw a scrapping of individualised policy approaches to structuralised ones. Policies undertaken by all countries within the UK government adopted this approach. England’s ‘Everyone In’ (MHCLG, 2020a) initiative saw an unprecedented number of homeless people housed at the beginning of the pandemic. Similarly, Scotland made accommodating those homeless a matter of public health duty (Scottish Government, 2020a), alongside Wales committing £10 million in funds to house the homeless population (Welsh Government, 2020a). This shift in policy showed a reframing of homelessness from individualised to structural through the focus on structural solutions. Structural solutions to homelessness are imbedded within policy, and legislative based intervention, often centring themselves around housing and prevention (Neale, 1997). The UK government not only provided housing but also worked towards prevention within the COVID-19 pandemic. All three countries implemented policies in which sort to prevent further homelessness, policies surrounding halts to evictions (MHCLG, 2020e), extended notice periods (Scottish Government, 2020a), and announced support for renters (Welsh Government, 2020d) littered policies indicating a preventative approach adopted. Implementing not only structural housing intervention but also structural policy prevention, the UK government indicated a moving away from individualised framings of homelessness approaches based on blameworthiness (Mackie, Johnsen, and Wood, 2017), to a framing of homelessness as being outside an individual’s control, rooted within macro-structural explanations and solutions (Fitzpatrick, 2005). This reframing of homelessness can only be described as a success. Demonstrated through the sheer scale of those helped, with an estimated 90% of rough sleepers known to the council being offered accommodation (MHCLG, 2020g). Solely seeing this policy action as a total re-framing of homelessness within the UK, would be a naïve stance to take for several reasons.

Ideas surrounding the reframing of homelessness by the UK government, to structuralised framing for good, is contested by the English governments lack of intention to maintain the same level of structural help post pandemic. Through a lack of communication as to whether these provisions shall be sustained, post pandemic research conducted by Homeless Link indicated that ‘more than one thousand people in London are at risk of returning to the streets as emergency accommodation used to house rough sleepers during the pandemic is wound down’ (Heath, 2021). Figures also published by Homeless Link show a total of 2,512 individuals still living in emergency accommodation in London with councils being instructed to close the ‘Everyone In’ hotels (Heath, 2021). These figures, and lack of direction from the English government as what to do with regards to them, shows a detrimental step back in the framing of homelessness, at least within in England, to a returning of an individualised stance. Questioning why this step backwards has been taken by the English government, can give way to theories surrounding why they chose to act in the first place.

Sociological thought surrounding this issue can be located in a study by Parsell et al (2020) whereby they evaluate the action taken by the Australian government with regards to homelessness and the pandemic. This study adopts a similar policy style review as this dissertation but focuses on Australian policy, however similarities in responses from both governments centred around the housing of the homeless during the pandemic offer comparability. Australian government’s response to housing the homeless in self-contained accommodation, similar to actions taken by the UK government, are presented by Parsell et al (2020) not as a reframing of homelessness from an individualised stance to a structural one but rather a reframing of homelessness as a public health risk. For Parsell et al (2020) the reframing of homelessness from an individualised issue to a public health crisis identifies the vulnerabilities of the homeless as a threat ‘not only to their own health, but also to that of the public more broadly’ (Parsell et al, 2020, p9). This reframing, for Parsell et al (2020), resulted in actions taken by the Australian government. This action was taken because the homeless’ risk of catching and spreading the virus, due to their living conditions, could no longer be framed as a choice or pathology of the homeless themselves but a threat to wider society, resulting in action taken by the government to protect the public (Parsell et al, 2020). The evidence suggested by Parsell et al (2020) for this reframing of homelessness as a public health issue, can be seen through the reluctancy of the Australian government to act in protecting the homeless pre-pandemic, regardless of the known threat of living conditions to homeless people pre-pandemic. These risks are only addressed when they have implications for wider society. Through the similar actions taken by the UK government in tackling homelessness during the pandemic, England’s lack of intention to carry on support, and the similar reluctancy to help before, regardless of the known health threat homelessness has always posed to those experiencing it (Office for National Statistics, 2018), it can be inferred that the UK government also only acted in helping the homeless during the pandemic because of the posed health threat to the wider public. Indicating that the UK government also re-framed homelessness from an individualised issue to a public health risk. An indication of this not being the case for all countries within the UK government however can be suggested.

Post-pandemic the Welsh and Scottish government have pledge to carry on offering structural support for those experiencing homelessness. The Welsh government declared a target that ‘no one need return to the street’ backed by a one-off £20 million of funding which was subsequently increased to £50 million (Welsh Government, 2020d). Scotland similarly has announced a phasing out of night shelters throughout the country replacing them with rapid rehousing welcome centres for those rough sleeping to encourage them to acquire housing quickly and effectively (Scottish Government, 2020b). These policies indicate a reframing of homelessness causations and solutions within these two governments from an individualised approach to a structural based one. The structural based approaches undertaken by the UK government during the pandemic allow for an evaluation of the effectiveness of this approach. Leading to a questioning of whether individualised theory is needed at all.

5.2: Re-thinking Homelessness Theory

Through the UK governments shift to structural solutions to homelessness within the COVID-19 pandemic, insight into whether the theory is correct and effective can be drawn. The success shown through the housing of so many homeless people within the pandemic, with an estimated 90% of rough sleepers known to the council being offered accommodation (MHCLG, 2020g) and a total of ‘33,139 people (being) brought into accommodation (including emergency accommodation, such as hotels, and more settled accommodation, such as in the private rental sector) in response (…) at end of November 2020 (MHCLG, 2021) indicates a huge success within this structural approach. This success calls for an evaluation as to whether not only individualised solutions are ineffective but also whether there is a need for individualised theory itself.

The persistency of an individualised approach can be seen as ineffective in solutions to homelessness:

‘The best way of tackling homelessness is to stop it happening in the first place. Prior to the pandemic over one billion pounds was being spent on temporary accommodation and this has continued under the emergency COVID measures. There is a longstanding need for more housing to provide people on low incomes with security, decent living conditions and rents they can afford to prevent people being pushed into homelessness’ (Boobis and Albanese, 2020, p44).

Calls for a rejection of individualised solutions to homelessness can be seen highlighting a need for the rejection of the theory also. Arguments against this however could contest that individual theory does still play a role, if not in solutions but in causation, due to homelessness still being caused by mental health, substance abuse and family breakdown, as demonstrated by other Western countries such as Belgium, Germany, and Italy (Bramley and Fitzpatrick, 2018) however on further inspection we can see arguments indicating that these issues are also rooted in structural explanations. Theories underpinning mental illness and substance abuse root their causation within society itself indicating a structural rooted source (Mental Health Foundation, 2021; Dom, 2016). Taking a postmodern sociological perspective into family breakdown its is also suggested that shifts in societal pressures related to patriarchy, sexual freedom and marriage have caused a lesser need for the rigid nuclear family within society (Giddens, 1992). Giddens’ (1991) theory of the ‘Pure relationship’ positions the maintenance of a relationship based solely on the reward of the relationship itself, individuals are free to exit relationships and enter solely based on their own sake, based on the satisfaction of each individual themselves showing the fragility of relationships within the postmodern world. Theories surrounding these individualised so-called causations produce the argument for the discarding of individualised theory all together. In adopting this stance, it would appear that the UK government should discard individual rooted policy in favour of structurally rooted ones resulting in not only a need for a shift in theory but also for a need in shift in policy itself.

5.3: Policy Restructure

Again, through addressing the success of the structural based approach to homelessness undertaken by the UK government aforementioned within the previous section (5.2) of this chapter. Solutions to homelessness can be rooted in a structural approach indicating a need for a shift in policy approach. Suggestions for a restructuring of policy centred around this approach are not holey uncommon however, with charity organisations within the UK, such as Shelter, Crisis and St Mungos, all calling for a policy shift years before COVID-19, however the success of structural policies within the pandemic offer a springboard for a change in political stance. With Wales and Scotland embracing this change there are calls for England to do the same. Transitions to more housing-led approaches throughout the UK with commitments to delivering affordable housing are called for (Boobis and Albanese, 2020, p42), with a focus on policies surrounding a Housing First approach (Clarke and Parsell, 2019).

A Housing First approach is what the UK government undertook during the COVID-19 pandemic through the attempted housing of all homeless people, they achieved this by providing housing without the usual requirements of sobriety and engagement with treatment programs, unlike shelters and/or transitional housing (Padgett et al, 2016) usually require. With this success calling for this policy shift to be implemented from here on after appears to be a sensible option. Especially considering the sheer extent of those made homeless during the pandemic. Figures compiled by the Observer state that more than ‘70,000 households have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic, with tens of thousands more threatened with homelessness, despite government pledges to protect tenants and prevent evictions’ (Jayanetti, 2021a). Critiques of the ban on evictions being unsuccessful due to illegal evictions, and the rising surge expected after the ban is lifted, calls for political action is imminent (Jayanetti, 2021b). A continued structural policy shift is needed, in the penultimate chapter policy suggestions shall be given in light of a need for a political restructuring of ways to tackle homelessness.

Chapter 6: Policy Suggestions

On conducting this policy review, and the encouragement for the UK to discard individual based policies in favour or structural based ones, this following chapter shall address suggested policy intervention considering this shift. The following policy suggestions are not my own however they do all follow a structural based trajectory backed by UK charity research in effectiveness:

As previously mentioned in chapter 5, an adoption of a Housing First approach would be central to achieving a structural policy shift within the UK. The aim of Housing First being the provision of ‘support, which prioritises access to stable accommodation over the requirement for an individual to first address any other support needs they have’ (Housing First in England, 2021) to help the continued homeless population. For Housing First, the offer ‘of housing and support are separate, but permanent, and enable people to sustain their accommodation and begin their recovery, making improvements in their health and wellbeing’ (Housing First in England, 2021). Alongside this approach is the suggestion of cross-sectional support, as seen within the pandemic through councils working collaboratively together, to achieve a more person-centred approach to help (Crisis, 2020c).

Suggestions made by Crisis (2020c) also centred themselves around a structural approach through the prevention of homelessness in the first instance, Crisis (2020c) suggest in tackling the cause of homelessness UK governments should:

  • ‘Make Housing First the default option for anyone with complex needs who is experiencing homelessness

  • Appoint a national director for Housing First

  • Oversee the establishment of national and local targets for the delivery of Housing First tenancies

  • Invest in the supply of new housing units for Housing First

  • Collect and publish data on the fidelity and outcomes of Housing First projects

  • Abolish priority need to ensure that settled housing is provided to all eligible homeless households

  • Revise national allocations guidance to ensure that homeless people are not excluded from registering for social housing

  • Ensure that affordability tests do not bar people who have experienced homelessness from social rented tenancies

  • Exempt Housing First participants from the Shared Accommodation Rate, the benefit cap, and welfare conditionality and sanctioning’ (Crisis, 2020c)

Through these examples of structural approaches there can be seen a need for the UK government, in consideration of policies surrounding homelessness, to improve the situation. Greater emphasis is being placed on them to act, now more than ever, as we enter the unstable financial position post-pandemic.

Chapter 7: Concluding Thoughts

The aim of this research was to demonstrate the outdated framing of homelessness within the UK, and to show how the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed for this to be changed. Suggestions have been given for a shift from individualised theories of homelessness to a structural stance. Through the policy review conducted, using directed content analysis, attention has been drawn to how the UK governments dealings with homelessness through the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a much-needed step in the right direction in tackling homelessness. Consideration has been drawn to the reframing of homelessness to a structural issue from an individualised one, through the success of the policies implemented within the pandemic. A call for the abandonment of individualised homelessness theory has also been suggested through the evidence provided by the UK governments policy interventions within the pandemic. A maintenance of this policy shift is also suggested. This is shown through the success of policies implanted during the pandemic to house the homeless. This research calls for a continuation of this support post-pandemic, with policy suggested such as Housing First. This would allow for support for those already homeless, and further support for those set to be homeless due to the imminent financial crisis following COVID-19. Praise has been given to the UK government, alongside a warning with relation to future homelessness. Requests to not abandon progress made. In recommending further research related to this topic, I would encourage an adoption of interviews with the homeless themselves, to highlight the real people affected by these policies, to further demonstrate the need for a structural theory and policy-based approach to homelessness. Furthering the call for this very needed re-framing of homelessness.


Throughout the writing of this dissertation, I have received excellent support from several people who deserve a huge thank you. Firstly, I would like to thank my dissertation supervisor Kitty Nichols for not only her guidance within this piece of work but for her continued support throughout my time at the University of Sheffield.

I would also like to thank my personal tutor Lucy Mayblin and Chantelle Turner for their continued support with my many struggles throughout my university experience, I truly would not be where I am without their continued support.

On a more personal note, I would like to say a special thank you to my best friends Robbie and Ruby, you have truly enabled me to survive university and have made my work life and social life a whole lot more enjoyable.

A huge thank you must go to Graham for supporting me this last year, I do not know what I would have done without not only your financial support but your emotional encouragement, thank you.

And last but by no means least, I would like to give a massive thank you to my mum for her endless support throughout not only this piece of work, or university but my whole life. I truly would not have succeeded without you; you have been my rock and I hope this makes you proud.


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