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Legal Rights and Political Realities: Governmental Responses to Homelessness in Britain


  • Ian Loveland

    1. Ian Loveland is British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Nuffield College and the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford University. D. Phil. 1988, Oxford University.
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  • The author would like to acknowledge the helpful comments made on earlier versions by several anonymous reviewers. A particular debt is owed to Terry Halliday, whose very constructive criticism at several stages of the paper's development have lent the final product a considerably clearer direction.


This article presents a “contextual” study of Britain's Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977. The article addresses the ostensibly perplexing policy question of why Britain's homeless population has almost trebled in the H years since the homelessness legislation was introduced. The answer is found by subjecting the legislation to a very wide-ranging contextualization process. Rather than simply focusing on the administrative arena in which the act is implemented, the article seeks explanations for its apparent ineffkacy in ideological considerations preceding its enactment, in the legislative process itself, in the (im)precise wording of the emergent statute, and in subsequent government policies in various relevant constitutional and social policy areas. The article concludes that a thorough understanding of the impact of this particular law requires it to be located in a series of interrelated contexts, a conclusion that might plausibly be extended to all studies of “law in society.”

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