29 Apr 2021

Keeping 'everyone in'

J.R.R Tolkien  |  The Fellowship of the Ring

I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

As society unlocks and the COVID-19 vaccination rollout helps inject a bit more normalcy into our lives, it’s vital that we don’t lose the progress or lessons we have learnt as a society during the pandemic.

Among other things, coronavirus has truly reiterated the importance of a safe, secure home. Thousands of us have found ourselves confined to our homes, only being able to leave to exercise or purchase essential goods. Homes have become workplaces too and looking to the future, it’s likely many of us who are able to will want to retain some level of home working in the future now that we’ve seen what’s possible with the technology that’s available to us.

We have also seen a step change in the government’s response to homelessness, and particularly rough sleeping. CIH, Crisis, Shelter and others have argued for some time that homelessness is both a personal and public health issue. The pandemic has brought this into sharp focus. The government accepted early in the pandemic that people experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping were particularly at risk from highly communicable diseases such as COVID-19. At the All Party Parliamentary Group on ending homelessness held October 22, 2020, academics from UCL acknowledged the government’s response as world leading.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) statutory homelessness statistics for October to December 2020 have started to give us a picture of what has happened on the ground during the pandemic. The effects of the changes in government policy are clear.

The number of households initially assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness fell 9.2 per cent compared to the same quarter in 2019. Households assessed as being threatened by homelessness fell by 18.5 per cent on last year, driven at least in part, by a nearly 50 per cent decrease in threatened homelessness via a section 21 notice. We must strongly speculate that this huge reduction is a direct result of the moratorium on evictions, implemented in response to the pandemic. The number of households assessed as being owed the ‘main homelessness duty’ fell too, by 5.3 per cent; 13.6 per cent for households with children. Although these reductions are welcome, without action, there could be a spike in homelessness as landlords begin possession proceedings once the moratorium ends – this is a massive problem in the making. CIH have published a set of proposals to avoid this problem and the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) are calling for government to provide financial assistance to people who have accumulated arrears during the pandemic.

There were some increases too though. The number of people in temporary accommodation rose eight per cent from the same quarter last year, and the number of single adults in temporary accommodation by fully 45 per cent - households with children in temporary accommodation decreased by 4.6 per cent. These changes have been driven by the government’s response to COVID-19 as local authorities were funded and empowered to find self-contained, temporary accommodation for people experiencing rough sleeping and/or living in communal accommodation, e.g. dormitories or night shelters.

One thing that is clear is the power of central government and local authorities to make a difference to people’s lives where the will, and the resources are in place.

CIH has recently responded to a consultation by the Kerslake Commission, looking into the response to homelessness response to COVID-19. We strongly support the ‘Everyone in’ programme and the effect it has had on rough sleeping and homelessness. We have also been clear that the gains made during the pandemic must not be lost, but instead built upon to ensure that homelessness and rough sleeping are rare and short occurrences.

Our response reiterates our call for a more strategic approach to the problem, which recognises the factors that drive homelessness. For example, welfare policy that makes it harder for people to afford a decent place to live and cuts directly against MHCLG’s policy to end homelessness. We need to see investment to build at least 90,000 social rented homes a year for the next 10 years, alongside the funding of a range of supported housing for people with a range of needs. On homelessness specifically, we call for the government to meet its pledge to end rough sleeping and place high priority on this goal. We also call for policies to be developed to address the true scale of ‘core homelessness’ (highlighted by the pandemic), and an end to ‘no recourse to public funds’ rules so that everyone who needs welfare assistance can access it.

We must not let this be a wasted opportunity to end rough sleeping and homelessness for good.

Written by Yoric Irving-Clarke

Yoric Irving-Clarke a policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing. He leads on homelessness and domestic abuse in the CIH policy team. Yoric is a chartered CIH member.