Homeless and locked out of housing

Homelessness is on the rise and housing supply is dire in England. With over 150 families being made homeless every day, what is influencing this and what is our government doing to tackle to the crisis?

Housing and homelessness in the UK is in crisis.

In the 2017 edition of the Homeless Monitor England 64% of councils across the UK said they were struggling to find social tenancies for homeless people.

Additionally, 85% said they were having difficulties assisting single people aged 25-34 into accommodation; and 88% are finding it difficult to house large families.

The number of rough sleepers has increased significantly as well as annual homelessness acceptances; if we look closer at the figures for London we can see that the latest figure was more than double (103% higher than) that at this previous low point! The vast majority of homeless acceptances are caused by the rent rise in the private rented sector.

Shelter also shockingly reports that 150 families in Britain are made homeless everyday. The hidden homeless and overcrowding remains a particular problem in London, but still persists country-wide.

But why is this so, and what is the government doing to help?

There are three main factors influencing the bleak statistics for homelessness in the UK and access to housing:

  • Number one – the shortage of affordable housing
  • Number two – the welfare cuts that have ravaged working class families in recent years
  • Number three – the lack of prevention support

Turning the tables on the housing shortage

In a bid to tackle the housing crisis in England, Secretary of State for Communities Sajid Javid launched the Housing whitepaper.

The Housing whitepaper, published in February, sets out the government’s plans to reform the housing market and boost the supply of new homes in England. Key themes of the paper include: planning for the right homes in the right places (build, build, build!), fast tracking the building of new homes, diversifying the housing market by opening it up to small builders, homeownership and investment in the private rental sector.

Branded by the Shadow Housing Minister John Healey as “feeble beyond belief” – as there are “200,000 fewer home-owners, homelessness has doubled, and affordable house-building has slumped to a 24 year low” – the whitepaper still fails those on low incomes and benefits who cannot afford to rent. The whitepaper is little interested in social housing (however in lieu of this, and the upcoming general election, May has recently announced a scheme to boost council homes for rent).

Although building housing is vital – that is a long-term solution. Therefore the whitepaper can’t help but be seen as a missed opportunity to ‘fix the broken housing market’ of today, rather than years from now.

Priced out of housing – welfare cuts and freezes

The cap on Local Housing Allowance, Bedroom Tax, and rising rent has led to low-income families being unable to lock down and keep up with tenancies in the private rented sector.

We are pushing families out onto the streets.

Research by the Department for Work and Pensions shows that the poorest families are spending almost a quarter of their income on rent, whilst the richest are spending 10%.

Not only do these disproportionate figures help to halt social mobility, they also cripple those who need to climb out of poverty the most. The freeze and booming housing market has become a barrier for families to enter into the rental market, and for councils trying to house the homeless too.

There is clearly a lack of support for housing costs, and the day-to-day impact this is having on families, compounding already dire situations as well as the continuation and downward spiral of those attempting to make ends meet.

Preventing of homelessness in our communities

Putting a stop to homelessness in our communities is a priority but one that the government is taking seriously.

The Homeless Reduction Bill, now Act, was passed at the end of April this year. The Act of Parliament promises to places a new duty on local authorities to help prevent the homelessness of all families and single people, regardless of priority need, who are eligible for assistance and threatened with homelessness. English councils are to receive funding totalling £61 million across 2017/18 and 2018/19 to help them meet the costs of the legislation.

The passing of this legislation is definitely welcome and is a huge relief for not only affected individuals but also those working hard in our communities to help those in crisis. Shout out to Crutch Haringey, Shelter Charity Shop, YMCA North London, Highway House, St. Mungos and All People All Place – just to name a few of the amazing organisation’s helping homelessness in and around Tottenham.

The investment in preventing homelessness is a positive step in the right direction, to ensure that no one vulnerable and homeless will ever be turned away to sleep on the streets. It is also vital, if we hope to curb the current trends of homelessness, that the private rental market is regulated, offering more protection for tenants and secure tenancies.

In summary

With homelessness on the rise and the housing market in crisis it is crucial that we keep the conversation at the top of the agenda. Whilst the Housing whitepaper fell short of it’s radical expectations, the Homeless Reduction Bill promises to shed a brighter light on access to housing. Now we just need to reverse the housing benefit cap and Bedroom Tax to secure affordable housing for the many, not the few!

Further reading

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