The latest figures on homelessness are shocking. Between April and June, over 15,000 households were classed as homeless, a 10% rise on the same time last year. That means more families, and more children, struggling to put a roof over their heads.
In the past year alone, almost 19,000 private renters were left without a home after being evicted – the highest number on record.
When we think of homelessness, the first picture that comes to mind is usually someone sleeping on the streets. It’s not hard to see why – rough sleeping has doubled since 2010, and shot up by 30% this year. But what we see is often just the tip of the iceberg. A ‘hidden homelessness’ crisis is emerging, with a sharp rise in the number of people being forced to live in temporary accommodation, like overcrowded hostels and cheap B&Bs.
As more men, women and children are left to face the danger and uncertainty of homelessness, the government is increasingly under pressure. From slashed housing benefit to social housing shortages, their actions are being blamed for the current crisis.
Local councils appear to be in contradiction with each other over how to best address the problem. Rushcliffe Council in Nottinghamshire made the news recently for introducing £100 spot fines for rough sleepers, but, in contrast, a St Mungo’s report found that homeless people are being told by some councils that they must sleep rough before they can get help.
So what can the government do? We’ve seen two announcements from them recently, which suggest that the latest rise in homelessness and the pressure applied by charities and campaigners have motivated them to act.
The first is the announcement of a new £40 million homelessness prevention programme. This aims to enable local authorities to pilot new initiatives to tackle homelessness and provide targeted support for rough sleepers.
The second is that they have pledged their support for the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which again aims to prevent homelessness happening and gives councils more responsibility to help those at risk. The Bill was put forward by a backbencher, Bob Blackman MP, but gained momentum when charities campaigned hard for the Bill to succeed in Parliament. It recently passed its second reading – its first major hurdle – and the government has promised to cover any extra costs that arise for councils as a result.
Time will tell about the impact these announcements have on the rise in homelessness. What we know for sure is that the need to tackle this problem has never been more urgent. A recent report by Shelter warned that the government is set to miss its own housebuilding target by more than 250,000 – a slowdown caused by Brexit. And, as a recent BBC documentary powerfully showed, an entire generation of young people are at risk of having ‘no place to call home’.
LandAid welcomes the government’s announcements, particularly the emphasis on preventing homelessness happening in the first place. Our projects are working to tackle the root causes of this problem and ensure that young people have the support and training to live independently. At this time of crisis, we know that every action matters – the more we pull together to address this problem, the greater difference we can make.