The size of the issue
Rarely a day passes when the issue of homelessness, the poor state of temporary accommodation or the lack of affordable housing, is not presented to us in the news.
The issue is huge. According to Government figures, on December 31 last year 78,930 households were in temporary accommodation. If you combine that with the charity Crisis’s estimate that currently 8000 people are sleeping rough with a further 9000 sleeping in cars and tents, we are looking at a very large and growing problem.
In this blog we take a look at the measures the government is taking to try and eliminate the issue and also present our thoughts on how we could go even further!
Tackling the problem
The government have said that it is committed to reducing the number of rough sleepers by half, by 2022 and eliminating it altogether by 2027. "We are also bringing in the Homelessness Reduction Act - the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier."
The Homelessness Reduction Act, which came in to effect on 3rd April 2018, imposes legal duties on English Councils to take positive steps to prevent homelessness. It should improve the situation because it intends to help people before they experience homelessness. However, in order to effectively tackle homelessness, the Act must be properly funded. The Act will require local authorities to produce more accurate figures. In addition, housing options services will need to radically change the way they address homelessness, moving to a more proactive stance of trying to prevent rather than having to resolve homelessness.
The concern is that the act is very costly at a time when councils are already facing funding cuts. It does not tackle the underlying issues of housing benefit cuts, the lack of affordable housing and insecure private tenancies.
Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesman, said: “Local authorities are currently having to house the equivalent of an average secondary school’s worth of homeless children every month. While they are doing all they can to help families facing homelessness, it’s essential that the new act’s duties on councils are fully funded.”
A spokesman from the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "We are providing over £1bn through to 2020 to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping. We are also bringing in the Homelessness Reduction Act - the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier."
Our thoughts on what else could be done
We all need to be aware of the increasing issue and that while it’s often the most vulnerable people are affected, it can happen simply as the result of a relationship breakdown or following an illness.
We believe more legislation could be introduced, not only to remove the discrimination against those in receipt of housing benefit, (the terms that mortgage lenders are imposing) but to also potentially incentivise those landlords who want to help. It can often be the case that those in the most essential professions, who are often on lower pay, are in receipt of top up housing benefits, nurses, carers, nursery workers and teaching assistants to name a just a few. With the absence of affordable housing or social housing they are left with little choice but to rent in the private sector which they can also be blocked from by a Landlords’ T&Cs!
The debate on how we can make housing more affordable needs to be kept high on the agenda. We would like to see some of the following ideas considered; tax incentives to encourage people to ‘share’ their space. Or indeed thought given to removing ‘blockers’ for people to help, such as abolishing ‘rent a room’ tax. Offering a discounted tax rate for renting properties to those on benefits. Government lending beneficial rate mortgages for those Landlords specifically looking to support those looking for affordable accommodation and those on housing benefit.
What should we do when we see someone sleeping rough? Streetlink is one organisation, set up to help end rough sleeping by enabling members of the public to connect people sleeping rough with the local services that can support them. Please see their website for services: www.streetlink.org.uk. But wouldn’t it be great to take this much further and have an emergency number that we all just knew like 999 or 111, to call when we saw someone was in need?
If you would like to get involved then please donate.
We would like to thank the following charities for their input:
Shelter, Crisis, Big Issue Foundation, Centre Point, YMCA, Homeless link, Streetlink