We are all aware of the increasing number of homeless people. Not only are we seeing more people sleeping in shop doorways and under bridges, but barely a day passes when we are not reminded of the issue of lack of social housing and temporary accommodation. Writing in the opening week of the Grenfell inquiry this topic is particularly poignant. In this blog we take a look at the causes of homelessness and why it is on the increase.
In addition to people sleeping out rough on the streets we are also seeing the rise of another type of homelessness – the so called ‘Hidden Homeless’. These are people without a place to call home, but who are ‘hidden’ from official statistics as they have not registered themselves as homeless with their council and are not receiving any support. They are often ‘sofa surfing’ or staying in a different place from week to week.
Often as the result of a relationship breakdown, mental health issue or losing a job people unexpectedly find themselves without a home. The impacts of not having a home are huge. It affects mental health and wellbeing. Not only that but not having a home brings about practical issues too; applying for a job or benefits without an address is very difficult. And for children, not having a bedroom, the facility to sit and eat a meal at or a space to do homework is hugely unsettling and a cause for anxiety.
Size of the issue
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 summary spiralling rents, lack of social housing, the cuts to welfare and council funding have all contributed to this problem.
The Private Rented Sector has increasingly become more and more unaffordable, especially in London and surrounding areas. Rents often consume more than half of income, making it impossible to save any money. This huge financial burden is an obstacle for many to save towards home ownership.
In addition, the majority of private landlords offer Short Hold Tenancy Agreements, meaning that with minimal notice tenants can be asked to leave or advised that their rent is increasing.
Another major barrier for the private rental sector is the refusal of landlords to accept tenants in receipt of housing benefit. A restriction imposed on them by many of the Buy to Let Mortgage Lenders terms and conditions!
Social housing undersupply
Years of undersupply have made social housing inaccessible for the majority. The waiting list for social housing currently stands at 1.2 million. In the 1980s nearly three quarters of non home-owners lived in social rented accommodation. 2.5million council homes have been sold off under the Right To Buy initiative, over recent years. By 2008, numbers of new homes being built had fallen to its lowest level since 1924. Since 2010/11, the number of new social homes built or bought has continued to drop from 39,560 to 6,550 in 2015/16.**
New government policies are not yet helping with the problem. The Welfare Reform and Work Act (2016) requires social landlords to reduce their rents by one per cent. This has hit their budgets, discouraging investment in new social housing stock. As a result, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that 14,000 fewer social homes will be built between now and 2020/21.
Temporary Accommodation is not fit for purpose
Although temporary accommodation offers a greater protection than rough sleeping, it is often unfit for purpose. We are still seeing the difficulties the Government are having in rehoming the families affected by the Grenfell tragedy. The press regularly report on the dismal conditions some families are facing in temporary accommodation.
Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “Temporary accommodation is often cramped, unsuitable and sometimes even dangerous. Temporary accommodation isn’t forever and people can end up back on the streets.”
Lastly pressures on council budgets and the cuts to housing benefit payments have simply left many unable to afford rents.
Homelessness can affect anyone and come about due to an unforeseen change in circumstances, such as relationship breakdown, loss of a job or illness. In the final of this series of blogs we take a look at what work is underway to tackle the issue.
If you would like to get involved then please donate.
We would like to thank the following charities for their continued work and reserach:
Shelter, Crisis, Big Issue Foundation, Centre Point, YMCA, Homeless link, Streetlink
*Metro March 2018
**Homelessness report 2017