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Housing

Nearly 1 in 3 worried they could be homeless or sofa-surfing in the next 5 years

Global human rights charity Amnesty International has, for the first time, conducted research into England’s housing crisis.

Nearly one in three UK adults said they are concerned they could be forced to sofa-surf or stay in temporary accommodation within the next five years as a result of unpredictable housing costs, new research by Amnesty International has found. 

But more than half UK adults also said that they would assume homelessness is caused by a breakdown in individual circumstances, such as relationship issues or drug dependency. 

This is the first time Amnesty International, known for intervening in human rights abuses around the world, has conducted research into homelessness in England, finding that “the current housing system in England is simply not fit for purpose.” 

“It needs wholescale reform to restore fairness and compassion,” said Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive. 

“It’s very convenient for the government that people often assume a person is homeless as a result of personal circumstances, but in truth homelessness is a result of a systematic failure of government,” he continued. 

The polling, conducted by Savanta ComRes of 2,264 adults in the UK, found that 36 per cent of people viewed government failings as responsible for a person being homeless. 

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Amnesty’s research argues that “specific government policies have resulted in thousands of people being denied housing”, seeking to change the narrative that homelessness is caused by a person’s own circumstances.

A government spokesperson said it is providing £2 billion in support to “tackle” homelessness over the next three years.

Local councils are required to provide emergency housing to people who are classed as a “priority need”, which includes having children, being pregnant or being made homeless as a result of domestic abuse. But researchers spoke to at least six women who, after having their children taken into care, were classed as single homeless women and therefore deprioritised for emergency housing. Without a place to live, it was far more difficult for them to find work and get their children back. 

Amnesty is calling for the current “priority need” condition to be abolished and for housing to be recognised as a basic human right by the UK government.

Homelessness legislation also requires local authorities to decide whether an individual has become intentionally homeless. Reasons a person can be categorised as intentionally homeless, and therefore denied support, are “highly subjective” says Amnesty, and include failing to pay rent when it looks like they have enough funds to do so, or they have refused housing offered by the local authority. 

Some housing offered by local councils was found to be mouldy, damp and occupied by pests including cockroaches, but refusing it would make an individual intentionally homeless and denied further support. 

The report, ‘An Obstacle Course: Homelessness Assistance and the Right to Housing in England’, is also critical of the policy absolving local authorities from a duty of care to migrants who or are treated as having “no recourse to public funds” status. This group of people are often the most vulnerable to exploitation or abuse.

“Unless housing is rightfully recognised as a basic legal human right, there is no way to hold the government to account for its woeful failings,” said Deshmukh.

A The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “Everyone deserves access to safe and secure accommodation.”

“Over the next three years, we are giving councils £2 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping which can be used to help anyone, including those with restricted eligibility, as long as the council is acting within the law in doing so.

“There are safeguards in place to ensure vulnerable migrants who are destitute and have other needs, such as supporting children, can receive help and can also apply to have their no recourse to public funds conditions lifted.”

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