Understanding distribution in homelessness policy : a normative exploration of the differential treatment of homeless households in England, Scotland and Wales.
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The social problem of homelessness evokes strong ethical responses but the role of values in this area has been relatively underexplored. This thesis responds to calls for more normatively engaged work in homelessness and housing studies by using concepts from distributive justice to explore the different entitlements of three sub-groups of homeless households (families with children, young people, and single people) under contemporary homelessness policy in England, Scotland and Wales. This work aims to improve conceptual clarity regarding normative principles relevant to homelessness policy, generate empirical evidence of how these principles apply to and interact within contemporary policy, and develop an evaluative framework through which normative elements of homelessness policy can be critically assessed. Underpinned by the critical realist position that ‘invisible’ social phenomena such as normative perspectives can have a causal impact on empirically identifiable social realities, the thesis draws upon scholarship from within moral and political philosophy to identify normative grounds for affording different levels of support or entitlements to different types of homeless household. Six principles in particular emerge as relevant to different positions in homelessness policy: need, desert, vulnerability, utility, rights, and equality. The relationship between these principles and contemporary homelessness policy in England, Scotland and Wales is explored through primary empirical work, including analysis of key policy documents and in-depth interviews with thirty-eight key informants. This evidence shows how these plural values are balanced differently across the three nations, with an emphasis on responding to acute need in England, a rights-based approach in Scotland, and a distinct split between these ‘selective’ and ‘universal’ positions in Wales. The combination of national homelessness systems and UK-wide welfare policy produces three distinct household groups: families with children, whose vulnerability and ‘blamelessness’ underpins strong protections; young people, conceptualised as vulnerable but offered only ‘patchy’ support; and single adults, historically deprioritised but gaining increasing policy attention motivated by principles of equality and concern about acute need. The thesis develops three tools for evaluating the defensibility of these relationships in normative terms: assessments of internal consistency, theoretical coherence, and reasonableness in the context of pluralism. Viewing homelessness policy through these different lenses demonstrates how a normative perspective can uncover sites of conflict, reveal policy areas ripe for change, and indicate directions of travel that could resolve tensions between principles and practice. In particular, the thesis highlights a shifting and perhaps diminishing role for the principle of desert in relation to homelessness and incremental moves towards ‘universalist’ policy in this area. The work contributes to a growing body of scholarship applying normative ideas to homelessness. It offers novel strategies for understanding and engaging with normative issues in homelessness policy and demonstrates how this kind of normative work can aid in mapping the policy landscape, offering conceptual clarity that supports identification of themes and distinctions between positions. This forms a strong position from which to evaluate different policy approaches, comparing them against criteria such as established moral positions or consistency with the policy’s stated aims, and enables practitioners and policymakers to take account of the moral and social context when determining future directions.