'Our homelessness crisis is getting out of control'
A sobering report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is the latest evidence that the sharp end of our national housing crisis is affecting more and more people, says CIH policy and practice officer Faye Greaves.
Today’s Ombudsman report is a sobering read and leaves us in no doubt that our homelessness crisis is getting out of control. It comes just a day after we learned that statutory homelessness has increased by 60 per cent in the last eight years and the total number of people living in temporary accommodation has soared by 65 per cent since the low of December 2010. This is nothing short of a national outrage.
Something that really jumped out for me was that people in work, including in professions such as nursing, are finding themselves unable to resolve their housing problems without help from their councils. The increasing cost of private renting is widening the reach of homelessness and the sharp end of our housing crisis is affecting more and more people, whether they are in work or not.
We need urgent, co-ordinated action to address the chronic shortage of genuinely affordable homes for rent and the growing gap between people’s income and their housing costs if we’re going to turn this rising tide of homelessness.
There is some hope on the horizon though, in the form of the Homelessness Reduction Act which comes into force next April. It will require all English councils to take more proactive and supportive approaches to helping people avoid the devastating experience of homelessness. We have a real opportunity to turn things around with this renewed focus on prevention but there are some things that need to happen if we’re going to fully realise the Act’s potential.
Firstly we need more genuinely affordable homes for rent. Current government investment for housing heavily favours the private market and home ownership. This needs to be rebalanced to boost the supply of rented homes that people on lower incomes can actually afford.
Secondly, we need welfare policies that don't exacerbate the problem and undermine efforts to prevent and respond to homelessness. The chancellor made some welcome changes in last month's Budget – but many policies are still obstructing efforts to tackle homelessness and make sure people can access a decent home at a price they can afford. Benefit rates have been frozen and for those in work wages are failing to keep pace with rising living costs. A combination of a shortage of social rented homes and the growing gap between incomes and housing costs are plunging more and more families into poverty. There is an increasing reliance on the private rented sector where in many areas rents are growing at a rate people’s incomes can’t keep up with.
We already know that the loss of an assured shorthold tenancy is the leading cause of statutory homelessness in England, accounting for almost a third of all cases in the last year. And according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the number of private renters living in poverty has almost doubled in a decade, because they’re handing over more and more of their income to cover the rent.
Ultimately, come April next year, English councils will have a huge challenge on their hands - but that doesn’t mean it’s an impossible one. With the right preparation, a steadfast commitment to delivering the new laws in the spirit of the Act backed up by sufficient funding and strong leadership – at operational, strategic and political levels – councils can make a difference while we all continue to call for those wider structural changes that can help achieve long-term change.
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