Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax, sanctions and housing benefit cuts are fuelling England’s rapidly worsening homelessness crisis, according to an independent study.
The government’s welfare policies have emerged as the biggest single trigger for homelessness now the economy has recovered, the study says, and they look likely to increase pressure on vulnerable households for at least the next two years.
London has become the centre of homelessness, the study says, as high rents, housing shortages and welfare cuts force poorer people out of the inner city to cheaper neighbourhoods. Those who lose their homes are increasingly rehoused outside the capital.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said the report revealed the true scale of homelessness in England. “Rising numbers [are] facing the loss of their home at a time when councils are being forced to cut services. This is a desperate state of affairs.”
Official figures show that homelessness is rising – up by 12,000 in 2013-14 continuing an upward trend since 2009-10 – with rough sleeping also on the increase, and soaring numbers of homeless families in temporary accommodation.
But the study argues that these official figures underplay the scale and complexity of homelessness in England because they do not capture the hundreds of thousands of people in housing crisis who are given informal help by authorities.
Although latest government statistics show 52,000 households were formally recorded as homeless in 2013-14, a total of 280,000 families were given some sort of assistance by authorities because they were at risk of losing their home.
Local authorities are increasingly using informal homelessness relief to keep at-risk families off the streets by providing financial support and debt advice or by mediating with landlords, none of which appears in the headline statistics.
“Taking these actions into account, we see that the number of cases of people facing or at serious risk of homelessness rose sharply last year. Yet this alarming trend has gone largely unnoticed by politicians or the media,” said the study’s lead author, Prof Suzanne Fitzpatrick of Heriot-Watt University.
The Homelessness Monitor 2015, an annual independent audit, is published by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The housing minister, Kris Hopkins, said the study’s claims were misleading. Local authorities had a wide range of government-backed options available to help prevent homelessness and keep people off the streets, he said.
“This government has increased spending to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, making over £500m available to local authorities and the voluntary sector,” he said.
Hopkins added that the government had provided Crisis with nearly £14m in funding to help about 10,000 single homeless people find and sustain a home in the private rented sector.
Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:
“Homelessness can be catastrophic for those of us who experience it. If we are to prevent a deepening crisis, we must look to secure alternatives to home ownership for those who cannot afford to buy: longer-term, secure accommodation at prices that those on the lowest incomes can afford.”
The study finds:
- Housing benefit caps and shortages of social housing has led to homeless families increasingly being placed in accommodation outside their local area, particularly in London. Out-of-area placements rose by 26% in 2013-14, and account for one in five of all placements.
- Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax contributed to an 18% rise in repossession actions by social landlords in 2013-14, a trend expected to rise as arrears increase and temporary financial support shrinks.
- Housing benefit cuts played a large part in the third of all cases of homelessness last year caused by landlords ending a private rental tenancy, and made it harder for those who lost their home to be rehoused.
The study says millions of people are “hidden homeless”, including families forced by financial circumstances to live with other families in the same house, and “sofa surfers” who sleep on friends’ floors or sofas because they have nowhere to live.
Official estimates of rough sleeper numbers in England in 2013 were 2,414 – up 37% since 2010. But the study’s estimates based on local data suggest that the true figure could be at least four times that.
Source – The Guardian, 04 Feb 2015
By Jenny Howarth
Chancellor George Osborne has delivered his fourth budget. It was clear from his opening gambit – “If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you” – that this budget would help the few and not the many. If you were not a ‘hard-worker’, business owner or saver then there would be no point in listening any further.
For Osborne, the budget was an opportunity to say that their long-term economic plan is delivering security for the people of this country. The emphasis was on support for businesses who invest and export, on support for manufacturers, on support for savers or rather making sure “hardworking people keep more of what they earn – and more of what they save” – all aimed towards the central mission: economic security for the people of Britain.
By the end of his 55 minute speech it was very clear that the economic security he spoke of was for the few not the many. He tried to convince people that his budget was for the “makers, doers and savers”, yet it came across as “I’m hoping to gain the over-50 vote”. He promised a budget of “hard truths” which could be implied as “if you think I’m going to help the unemployed, disabled and vulnerable then think again”.
Osborne’s budget was more ‘out of touch with reality’ than ‘hard truths’. He spoke of economic growth, a Britain on the road to recovery, even mentioning the new resilient pound coin to match the resilient economy. However, for thousands of families waking up the morning after the Budget, life is still a struggle. For them the budget was meaningless, doing nothing to improve their desperate situation and here is why.
Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:
“This is a Budget for the people who already have, not for the people who need to benefit most from the return to growth. It is a lost opportunity for the 13 million people in poverty who need active intervention to tackle the structural barriers that keep them in poverty”. Adding, “People on low incomes are unlikely to see the welcome benefits of growth unless there is targeted help with household and housing costs, with child care and with the nature of jobs and training. The expense and inefficiency of high levels of poverty continue to put a drag on growth”.
A view shared by other charities. William Higham, Save the Children’s director of UK poverty, said:
“The Budget was a missed opportunity to address the needs of families that are struggling to pay their food bill and children whose parents cannot afford to pay for uniforms and school trips”.
It is for these reasons, George Osborne’s fourth budget was a budget for the few. It failed to address the fact that living standards are falling – despite the 2010 Manifesto promising “An economy where…[people’s] standard of living…rises steadily and sustainably”. It failed to help the 350 000 reliant on food banks or the 400 000 disabled people paying bedroom tax. His “resilient pound for a resilient economy” ignores the fact that working people are £1600 worse off.
Osborne may believe that increasing personal tax to £10 500 will help improve living standards but whilst it lifts three million out of taxation, it does nothing for the many families who depend on housing benefit to top up the little wage they get. “The vast majority of this will be deducted from their benefits – giving with one hand while taking with the other”, says Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society.
Matthew Reed’s comment raises another important point – benefits. Osborne had nothing to say on this except to announce a cap on the welfare budget. This will see Tax credits and housing benefit limited to £119.5bn in a bid to cut the deficit. Critics say that this limit to benefit claims over the next four years will hit disabled people and the low paid without tackling the underlying causes of Britain’s growing social security bill.
Whilst it may appear to be political suicide by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls saying Labour will vote for the cap, it is not. According to Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the cap was simply a “gesture” and served no purpose other than to kick the “problem of spending cuts into the next parliament”.
For Portes it was “meaningless” to put a number on the cap without having policies in place to deliver it or to state how the cuts would be achieved. Adding that the charter would commit MPs to renewing the cap each year. “As Parliament already votes on measures to change social security budgets, this charter will not make much difference”.
It would appear that Osborne’s welfare cap charter is not new but something that already exists. It could be argued that whilst Labour is voting for it, there is plenty scope to amend the limit and bring in policies that would help not hit. Moreover, the question that needs to be asked is would a successive conservative government do that or would they continue with their long-term economic plan that they insist is bringing security to the people of Britain.
For now it would appear they are committed to helping the few, committed to bringing security to the hard-workers, business owners and savers. Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, says:
“Today’s Budget tries to lock-in austerity for millions of low-paid families, poor children, carer’s and disabled people. Announcing a cap for social security spending without a plan to address the root causes of low pay, high rents and high childcare costs, simply forces the most vulnerable in society to pay the price for inaction”.
Source – Welfare News Service, 20 March 2014