Good work done to tackle rough sleeping since the pandemic began faces being undone by the cost of living crisis, experts have warned. Image: Blodeuwedd / Flickr
Liz Truss has been told to ban evictions of renters and increase benefits to stop the cost of living crisis from having a “catastrophic” impact on homelessness.
The new prime minister has been urged to follow Scotland’s lead in reintroducing a temporary ban on evictions just as ministers did during the first year of the pandemic.
Truss has also been told to raise the local housing allowance to reflect record rents and increase benefits and the benefit cap now rather than in April 2023 as planned.
The pleas have come from the Kerslake Commission – a group of 36 experts from the health, housing and homelessness sectors – set up to examine the lessons from the Everyone In scheme response to rough sleeping during the first Covid lockdown.
Commission chair Lord Kerslake – the former head of the civil service – said the need to act to tackle the cost of living is just as urgent as it was when ministers had to bring rough sleepers indoors during the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020.
“Two years on from the pandemic we are facing a new crisis. The cause may be different but the response must be equally urgent,” said Lord Kerslake.
“We once again need to see the strong, decisive leadership from the government we did during ‘Everyone In’, backed by resources and funding. But this time the focus must be two pronged. It is no longer just about getting people off the streets, it is about ensuring people who are currently at risk of homelessness don’t end up on them.
“Failure to act could see this become a homelessness as well as an economic crisis and the results could be catastrophic; with all the good achieved in reducing street homelessness since the pandemic lost, and any hope of the government meeting its manifesto pledge to end rough sleeping by 2024 gone.”
The report, released on Wednesday, tracks the progress towards ending rough sleeping in England – a target the Conservatives promised to hit by 2024 in their 2019 manifesto.
It provides an update on recommendations made to the government, local authorities and health providers a year ago on how to work towards ending rough sleeping, rating them as green, amber or red.
Just over a quarter of the 12 recommendations have been marked green to say they have been completed, including the repeal of the Vagrancy Act that criminalises rough sleeping and begging. However, the commission warned against government plans to introduce replacement legislation for the axed act.
Meanwhile, the government’s efforts to build social housing, increase the welfare safety net and expand the use of Housing First was marked as red by the commission.
The report warned the government is “not currently on track” to end rough sleeping by the end of the current parliament in 2024 and added that contributors to the commission were “deeply concerned” that ministers will miss their manifesto commitment.
“As a leading provider of frontline homelessness services we see every day the very real and very harsh reality of this financial crisis,” said Rebecca Sycamore, interim chief executive of St Mungo’s.
“And with more price increases, and the colder weather coming, it is very likely many of those currently just scraping by will no longer be able to manage, and could be at real risk of losing their homes.
“In order to prevent this from becoming a homelessness crisis action is needed now – and we fully support the new recommendations made by the commission and urge Liz Truss and her ministers to introduce these measures as a matter of urgency to prevent more people ending up homeless this winter.”
Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, said the cost of living crisis is not only pushing people to “breaking point” but it is also impacting on homelessness services.
“We also call for sufficient and sustainable funding for the homelessness sector, which, in delivering advice, support, accommodation and essential amenities, acts as a lifeline for people who are forced into homelessness, and must be kept afloat,” said Henderson.
A government spokesperson told the Big Issue: “We are giving councils £316million this year to ensure families are not left without a roof over their heads.
“This is alongside the action we are taking to support families with the cost of living this winter through our £37billion pound support package. This includes £1,200 this year for the most vulnerable, helping them to pay their bills and stay in their homes.”