Housing

Scottish Government links homelessness with Universal Credit

The introduction of Universal Credit correlates with a recorded increase in homelessness, Holyrood officials said

Charities found evidence Universal Credit's five-week wait can lead to homelessness

People are being "plunged into poverty by a poorly executed social security system", the Government said. "Homeless Rough Sleeper" by Deadly Sirius is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Universal Credit is pushing people into homelessness, according to a “deeply worrying” report from the Scottish Government. 

Benefits sanctions and the five-week wait to receive a first payment directly contribute to homelessness levels in Scotland, the research showed, after tenants were forced into rent arrears and subsequently eviction.

Scotland’s homelessness rate increased from 532 people per 100,000 in 2015/16 to 573 people per 100,000 in 2019/20, which “roughly coincides” with the introduction of Universal Credit, according to the report. Around eight per cent of the Scottish population – one in 12 people – has experienced homelessness.

While a variety of circumstances can contribute to homelessness, this report paints a stark picture of how people can be plunged into poverty by a poorly executed social security system,” said Shirley-Anne Somerville, social security secretary.

“The UK welfare system must be made fit for purpose with damaging reforms reversed. It is disappointing the UK Government plans to cut the £20-per-week uplift in Universal Credit payments in six months’ time and that they have refused to expand it to legacy benefits.”

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It is not possible to “draw conclusions from these high-level statistics,” the report said, but that “evidence from charities and other organisations indicates that there is in fact a link between Universal Credit and homelessness.”

“The evidence is clear that certain features of Universal Credit can lead to homelessness,” it added.

Hardship at the hands of the Universal Credit set-up was also causing relationship struggles and mental health problems in claimants, the Holyrood report said.

Six million people receive Universal Credit payments, according to UK Government figures, nearly double the number who claimed the benefit before the Covid-19 outbreak last year.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “The findings of this report are deeply worrying,” Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, told The Big Issue.

“We know that key aspects of Universal Credit can put huge pressure on people financially and push them even closer to the brink of homelessness. In some cases it leaves people defaulting on their rent, unable to afford essentials or having future payments cut to the bone to cover an advance payment.”

Analysis by the charity previously showed that homeless people were twice as likely to have been sanctioned and had their benefit payments cut, usually for missing job centre appointments or spending too little time looking for work.

Ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections in May, Crisis is calling on each party to commit to creating more homes for social rent in the areas where they are most needed.

In the manifesto, the charity also calls for a transformation of the private rented sector, making suitable homes easier to access and more affordable.

“We are also concerned that as the economic impact of the pandemic takes effect, job losses and rent arrears could see more and more people, who are currently only just getting by, being pushed into homelessness,” Sparkes added. “The decision to freeze Local Housing Allowance will make that situation even harder.”

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