Election 2017: what we're asking for on ... homelessness
As the build up to the General Election continues our policy and practice officer Faye Greaves takes a closer look at what we’re asking for on homelessness – one of our key election priorities.
The upcoming election presents an ideal opportunity to see some positive further progression after the cross party commitment to drive the Homelessness Reduction Bill into law. All political parties must take a step back and pitch a pragmatic long-term approach to tackling homelessness.
Reflection tells us that statutory homelessness has been on a gradually rising trend since the low of 2009/10 up by 44 per cent in 2015/16. There’s also been a sharp rise in the number of households being placed into temporary accommodation – up by 10 per cent compared to last year and 58 per cent since 2010. And rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010 and it continues to grow across the country.
On top of this, successful activity to help people resolve their situations is falling – last year prevention and relief cases were down by 3 per cent. It’s getting harder for councils to help people resolve their housing difficulties.
We’re going backwards and that’s because we lack a robust strategy to tie public policy together.
Without wishing to over simplify a complex problem, there are some obvious drivers for rising homelessness.
First of all, there has been a long-term under supply of genuinely affordable housing because overall government investment in housing is still significantly skewed towards the private market and home ownership. Our analysis found that just 16 per cent of the total funding earmarked for housing up to 2021 will directly fund affordable homes. We’ve already seen an 80 per cent drop in new supply of housing for social rent since 2009-2010 and a drop of 44 per cent in overall affordable housing supply in the same period.
At the same time, we’re losing too many of the cheapest homes for rent. Our analysis suggests we will have 250,000 fewer homes let at social rents by 2020 compared with 2012 if housing policy continues in its current form.
Those who are locked out of home ownership and who cannot access limited affordable options have no choice but to rent in an increasingly expensive private rented sector where the number of renters living in poverty has doubled in a decade because they’re handing over up to half of their income to cover their rents.
Use of private rented housing to prevent homelessness in England has dropped by 30 per cent since 2009/10 and its use to discharge statutory duties accounted for just 4 per cent of all cases in 2015/16. At the same time, loss of tenancy in the PRS remains the single biggest cause of homelessness accounting for 32 per cent of total acceptances according to the latest data release, an increase of 20 per cent on the 2009/10 figures.
But the supply and affordability problems aren’t creating homelessness all by themselves - we have some really unhelpful welfare policies to consider which are exacerbating the problem.
The most obvious one is the freeze on LHA rates which are already wildly out of step with the private rented market in a large proportion of areas limiting recipients to a decreasing proportion of the market – the bottom 5-10% in many areas according to our analysis.
And the reduced benefit cap increases the risk of homelessness for up to 116,000 families, with shortfalls of up to £115 a week in the worst cases according to analysis.
Changes to supported accommodation funding is causing uncertainty as well and we know that use of supported accommodation is important in efforts to prevent and relieve homelessness – accounting for almost 10 per cent of all prevention and relief cases last year.
And Universal Credit is a growing concern. Research has found that the waiting period is the biggest cause of arrears for claimants – and restrictions for 18-21s have come in which could see up to 11,000 18-21 year olds affected by 2021 according to official government estimates.
The introduction of new legal obligations on English councils to provide meaningful help to all eligible households irrespective of priority need won’t create new housing supply and it won’t address the affordability issues caused by dramatic welfare cuts. Yes, local authorities must receive adequate funding to deliver what’s being expected of them and there are wider structural issues that need addressing. But there can be no doubt that prevention saves money in the long run and if the new act can help drive a wider reform agenda to truly prevent homelessness, it can only be a good thing.
We need housing investment to truly meet identified need and at the same time we need a rethink of the major welfare policies that are driving a lot of the affordability problems.
We also need to understand what the private rented sector can truly offer as we move forward too – what can be done to open the sector up for vulnerable and low income households?
And finally, we need a cross departmental national homelessness strategy to tie all of this together.
The upcoming election presents an ideal opportunity to ditch a public policy approach that seriously lacks strategic thinking. Homelessness is complex, and there are no quick fixes, but political will is an absolute must if we’re ever going to envisage a time when homelessness can be tackled properly.
- Homelessness is one of the key areas we want to see a commitment on in the upcoming election - find out more here.