Housing

New PM must prevent soaring homelessness from becoming Tories’ ‘tragic legacy’

In an open letter to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, 29 organisations have urged the new prime minister to deliver on the promise to end rough sleeping, reform rents and prevent soaring homelessness as cost of living bites.

Homelessness

The government promised to end rough sleeping by 2024. Image: KayVee.INC / Flickr

The new prime minister must urgently act to prevent people from losing their homes as the cost of living crisis bites, leading homelessness charities have warned in an open letter to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss.

Almost 30 homelessness organisations signed the letter, which was co-ordinated by charity Homeless Link and sent to both candidates on Tuesday. It criticises the pair for being quiet about the issue while on the campaign trail.

“Both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss were elected on a Conservative party commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024, and yet, despite government figures showing homelessness increased by 11 per cent in the first three months of this year, both leadership candidates have barely mentioned homelessness throughout their campaigns,” said Homeless Link chief executive Rick Henderson.  

“It’s vital that when parliament returns next month, our new prime minister acts decisively to prevent a wave of homelessness. We hope that this letter, and the weight of concern it demonstrates from across the homelessness sector, will put the issue of homelessness back on their agenda.”

Signed by the likes of Crisis, Shelter and St Mungo’s, the letter warns that the rising cost of living crisis and a chronic shortage of affordable housing could force people into homelessness in the months ahead.

The winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest, who is set to be named prime minister on September 5, is tasked with delivering on the 2019 Tory manifesto promise to end rough sleeping by 2024. The sector has called for a long-awaited rough sleeping strategy to be published by the end of the year to set out how ministers plan to hit the target.

Charities also urged the new PM to ensure the reforms to the private rental sector promised earlier this summer are enshrined in law. An end to ‘no-fault’ evictions – which allow landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason and are a leading driver of homelessness – is part of the reforms set to be brought through parliament when MPs return in September.

Rebecca Sycamore, interim chief executive at St Mungo’s, said the new PM must continue the “great work” achieved during the pandemic. The government introduced the Everyone In scheme to protect rough sleepers leading to a fall in the number of people on the streets.

“The new prime minister, and their government, should continue to prioritise rough sleeping – especially considering the effect that the cost of living crisis is likely to have on the number of people facing and experiencing homelessness over the coming months,” said Sycamore.

However, Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis, said the cost of living risks undoing work to tackle rough sleeping and wider homelessness during the current Conservative government’s tenure in Downing Street.

He called on Truss and Sunak to boost housing benefit to reflect rising rents as well as publishing a plan to deliver genuinely affordable homes.

“Our new prime minister must act swiftly and decisively to prevent soaring rates of homelessness becoming the tragic legacy of the difficult economic times we are in,” said Downie.

“People on the lowest incomes are straining under the weight of price increases they simply cannot afford. Confronted with very limited options to pay their rent or a crucial bill, many people are facing the terrifying reality of no longer being able to afford their home and are at real risk of homelessness if nothing is done.”    

So far, Sunak has promised to do “whatever it takes” to build affordable housing for “the next generation of Conservative voters” with plans to stop developers “land-banking” – namely buying land without building homes.

As for Truss, she has promised to help renters buy their first home and has announced plans for rent payments to be taken into account in mortgage affordability assessments.

The full letter reads:

Dear Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak,

As the country’s leading housing and homelessness organisations, we are writing to you to highlight the importance of homelessness and rough sleeping in your respective campaigns to become the next leader of the Conservative Party and therefore our next prime minister.

In its 2019 manifesto, the Conservative Party made a commendable commitment to end rough sleeping in England by 2024. Since then, largely due to the government’s leadership during the pandemic response and the tireless work of homelessness organisations and local authorities, rough sleeping has declined for four years in a row.

Additionally, within the same manifesto, the Conservative Party also committed to abolishing ‘no fault’ Section 21 private sector evictions, one of the major causes of homelessness in recent years, but this has not yet been enshrined in law.

Now we are at a precipice. Inflation is rising at the fastest rate for forty years, while rents in the private rented sector have reached record levels and are still rising. We are already in the midst of a housing crisis, with a chronic lack of genuinely affordable housing. Therefore, without governmental intervention, we fear many more people could be forced into homelessness.

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It would be a deep shame to undo the progress made since 2019, therefore, as a sector we are asking you to commit to the following:

1. Your government will continue to strive to meet the 2019 Conservative manifesto pledge, set out on page 30 of the document, to end rough sleeping in England by 2024.

2. You will ensure that the planned refresh of the rough sleeping strategy is published by

the end of 2022 at the latest to provide a blueprint for meeting the 2024 target.

3. You will bring forward the full list of reforms outlined in the recent White Paper: ‘A fairer

private rented sector’, as legislation when parliament returns in September, including

fulfilling the manifesto pledge of ending ‘no fault’ Section 21 evictions.

It’s easy to think of homelessness and rough sleeping in broad numbers, but these are real lives, stories of people let down by a system that should protect them. Everyone deserves a safe place to live and the support they need to keep it. Homelessness is not inevitable. With the right political will, and through working together, we can end it forever.

Yours sincerely,

Rick Henderson – CEO at Homeless Link,

Polly Neate – CEO at Shelter,

Rebecca Sycamore – Interim CEO at St Mungo’s,

Mathew Downie, CEO at Crisis

Amanda Dubarry – CEO at Caritas Anchor House,

Stephen Bell – CEO at Changing Lives,

Jo Carter – Interim CEO at Glass Door,

Ellie McNeil – CEO at YMCA Together,

Steve Benson – CEO at Two Saints,

Dr Jan Sheldon – CEO at St Martin’s Housing Trust,

Mark Grant – CEO at Action Homeless,

Malcom Putko – Operations Director at Harbour Housing,

Sarah Lister – Chief Operating Officer at Oasis Community Housing,

Steve Rundell – CEO at Nomad Opening Doors,

Chris Keating – CEO at Connection Support,

Paul Roberts – CEO at Aspire Oxford,

Kate McSweeney – Deputy CEO at the Booth Centre,

Rachel Marshall – Policy & Best Practice Manager at the Frontline Network,

Mark Simms, CEO at P3,

Charlotte Talbot, CEO at Emmaus

Ben Richardson – Director at Caring Bristol,

Jo Moore – CEO at Accommodation Concern,

Lawrence Santcross – CEO at Transform Housing & Support,

James Boultbee – CEO at Wycombe Homeless Connection,

Joe Heeney – CEO at Resolve,

Julie Berti – CEO at Hope Housing Bournemouth,

Pauline Gilbert – Chair of Trustees at Bexhill & Rother Homelessness Unity Group,

Jayni Gudka – CEO at Unseen Tours,

Sue Shirt – Stonewater.

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