Housing Secretary Michael Gove on the morning media round the day after announcing a new housing plan and before the homelessness statistics were released. Image: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock
Early 2023 was the worst period for homelessness in England since records began, according to the latest government figures, causing charities to redouble their appeals for action to address the dual crises of housing and the cost of living.
Almost 80,000 households in England contacted their local council between January and March 2023 because they were homeless or at risk of homelessness, the highest number since these records began in 2018.
A further 105,000 households were living in temporary accommodation in the period, also the highest on record since 1998, including more than 130,000 children.
“The time for empty words on building social homes and overdue promises on ending no fault evictions has long passed,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, which estimated nearly 25,000 people had been made homelessin the last year because landlords had evicted them via so-called Section 21 “no-fault” evictions.
“No-fault evictions are fuelling homelessness and throwing thousands of families’ lives into turmoil,” Neate added. “We need decisive action, not lip service, before this crisis gets even worse.”
Shelter called on the government to prioritise pushing the Renters Reform Bill through parliament after the summer break. Many hope the much-discussed bill will give more protections to renters and abolition Section 21 evictions.
More than a third of households were homeless because their private tenancy had ended, and a quarter said they no longer had a roof over their head because friends or family couldn’t accommodate them.
“Once again, we see the crippling cost that years of no investment in housing benefit, and a shameful lack of social house building, is having by trapping families in temporary accommodation,” added Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis. “Not only do people not have the stability and security of a home, but they’re often left to cope in just one room, with no facilities to cook meals or do washing.”
Official government figures are based on the number of people applying to councils for help, but homelessness is notoriously difficult to quantify, meaning many more people could be living without a home across the country.
A government spokesperson said: “We are determined to prevent homelessness before it occurs. Temporary accommodation ensures no family is without a roof over their head and we have been clear that the use of B&Bs is always a last resort.“
On Monday the government promised to make good on its manifesto pledge to build 1 million new homes before the next election and Housing Secretary Michael Gove announced a long-term plan for housing, relaxing planning rules to allow more building in city centres.
“We need to keep going because we want more people to realise the dream of owning their own home,” said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
“We won’t do that by concreting over the countryside – our plan is to build the right homes where there is the most need and where there is local support, in the heart of Britain’s great cities.
“Our reforms today will help make that a reality, by regenerating disused brownfield land, streamlining the planning process and helping homeowners to renovate and extend their houses outwards and upwards.”
But, given the scale of the problem apparent in the homelessness figures released today, Crisis’ Downie accused ministers of being “out of touch” and unable to grasp “the severity of the situation”.
“The Westminster government may have declared victory yesterday on a pledge to build one million homes in this parliament, but these figures highlight how out of touch they are. Until the Westminster government grasps the severity of this situation, we will not see change,” he said.
“Families experiencing homelessness will continue to be commonplace and more and more children will be forced to live in cramped, unsafe temporary accommodation. Households across the country desperately need more social homes as well as investment in housing benefit so that people can afford even the cheapest of rents.”
The government spokesperson continued: “Councils must ensure temporary accommodation is suitable for families, who have a right to appeal if they think it does not meet their household’s needs. That’s why we have given £2 billion over three years to help local authorities tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, targeted to areas where it is needed most. In London, this includes over £350 million funding through the homelessness prevention grant.
“The government is also improving availability of social housing. We are committed to delivering 300,000 new homes per year and investing £11.5 billion to build the affordable, quality homes this country needs.”
Lord Bird, founder of the Big Issue and crossbench peer, said: “These new figures on homelessness make it clear we are letting down the people who need us most. As someone who has suffered homelessness I know the long-term ill-effects and trauma that comes with it, the government should be doing everything in its power to prevent families and individuals at risk of losing their homes from becoming homeless.
“Some immediate fixes the government could put in place, that we have been consistently calling for, are to pass the renters reform bill and end no-fault evictions, ensure universal credit is fit for purpose and unfreeze local housing allowance rates. However, this is only the beginning of what needs to be done, we need a focused and joined-up approach with prevention at its heart to ensure we don’t keep finding ourselves back in this crisis.
“Too much money is spent on emergency and coping, this needs to change. Our resources have to be focused on prevention and cure. Not only is this cheaper for the government in the long run, but it is the only way we can hope to put an end to the misery of poverty.
“I am now working on a new bill for the next parliament, a Ministry of Poverty Bill, which is about putting poverty at the top of the agenda, rather than have it ineptly dealt with in a piecemeal way. Having a Ministry of Poverty would allow for a focused and comprehensive approach to preventing and eradicating poverty.”
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