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Opinion

UK is on brink of a mass homelessness crisis. Government must act now – before it's too late

Today we mark World Homeless Day, and think about all those whose lives have been touched and forever changed by homelessness. But millions more face losing their homes.

Image: Shikhar Talwar

Today we mark World Homeless Day, and think about all those whose lives have been touched and forever changed by homelessness – myself included.

Normally I’d take this opportunity to urge the government to end rough sleeping, and bring everybody in as they did in the pandemic. But this year – as important as that remains – I’m taking a different tack. I’m calling on the government to stop thousands more families becoming homeless, by providing urgent funding in the Autumn Statement to protect the most vulnerable renters from losing their homes.  

Right now, we’re on the brink of a mass homelessness crisis. There are 9 million renters in the UK living in poverty and at risk of losing their homes. 242,000 households are already homeless, so immediate action is needed to protect hundreds of thousands more from the same fate. 

To achieve this, we need an end to the political apathy that has allowed millions of those on the lowest incomes to go without essentials like food and heating in order to keep the roof over their head. Through my work at the Big Issue, I know how so many of these stories will sadly end. People living on the breadline, just scraping by each month, are managing an impossible balancing act. In the face of skyrocketing rents and bills, it takes only the slightest knock for them to lose their equilibrium, and their home along with it.  

At the Big Issue, we’re calling on the government to fund two policy changes that will allow millions of people to stay in their homes. The first of these is unfreezing local housing allowance (LHA) rates. These rates set the level of housing benefit payments and the housing element of universal credit. They were designed to make sure housing benefit payments kept up with local rent costs, but they have been frozen since 2020.  

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That means while rents have been going up, housing benefit payments haven’t. LHA should cover the lowest 30% of market rents, but in reality just one in 20 private rental properties is available at a price that could be covered by housing benefit. Those on the lowest incomes have been left to make up the shortfall on their own, often by cutting out essentials to make ends meet. 

The second change I’m urging the government to bring forward is an increase to universal credit. Our benefits have never been linked to an estimate of how much money people actually need to meet their essential costs, and we’ve reached the point where millions of those on benefits are now having to choose between heating, eating and paying rent. To put an end to this, I’m calling on the chancellor to increase universal credit payments from £85 to £120 a week for a single adult, and from £133 to £200 for a couple.  

These changes must of course take place in conjunction with the passing of the government’s Renters Reform Bill. In the last year, 25,000 people have been made homeless through Section 21 no-fault evictions. Until this practice is no longer possible, private renters can never be fully secure in their homes, and so it is vital the government bring the bill forward immediately in the next session of Parliament. 

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I’ve spent much of my life working to eradicate poverty, and I cannot stress enough that having a secure home is the most reliable route out of need. Keeping families in their homes and away from homelessness must be one of the government’s top priorities as they work to build a more prosperous Britain. So as the chancellor writes his Autumn Statement, I hope he will give serious consideration to funding the policies I have outlined, and make the right decision for the millions of low-income renters relying on him to act on the 22 November. 

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For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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