Unlock Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, editor of the FT, picks her favorite stories in this weekly newsletter.
There was a time during the pandemic when charity workers dared to hope that the most visible, traumatic aspect of homelessness could be banished from England once and for all.
At the beginning of 2020, the government initiative “Everyone In” ensured the provision of emergency accommodation for almost 15,000 people in just two months. Rough sleepers disappeared from the streets.
But hopes raised by ministers delivering on their manifesto promise to end insomnia altogether by 2024 are fast fading. A resurgence of cardboard shelters in store entrances and “tent cities” in public spaces this fall instead reflects persistent deficiencies in shelter and support services.
In March, the month for which the latest government data is available, the number of English households in precarious accommodation stood at 104,510 – a 10 percent annual rise that threatens to bankrupt local governments. A record number of 131,000 children were affected. Reports from non-governmental organizations and local authorities indicate that the situation has steadily worsened over the year.
Meanwhile, in London alone, 4,068 people slept rough between July and September, according to figures commissioned by the mayor’s office – a rise of almost 25 per cent on the previous quarter, underlining the severity of the crisis looming this winter.
“It’s people being forced into homelessness for the first time, not just people who have experienced it before,” said Francesca Albanese, director of policy and social change at Crisis, the national homelessness charity. She described a social safety net that was overcrowded, from shelters to bed and breakfasts to public housing.
Interior Minister Suella Braverman sparked an angry backlash last week with proposals to ban homeless people from setting up tents in urban areas. She later described sleeping outside as a “lifestyle choice.”
Charity workers say the recent sharp rise in rough sleepers and the number of people stuck in temporary accommodation is far from a choice, but is the result of a chronic lack of affordable housing and a cost of living crisis forcing people out of their homes distribute.
Recent research by crisis and property website Zoopla found that just 4 per cent of properties in England were affordable at government housing benefit rates, which have been frozen since 2020. For available rental properties in London, this drops to 2 percent.
“Anyone who is in a tent is there because they have no other choice,” Albanese said.
The Home Office declined to confirm whether Braverman’s proposals to restrict the use of tents were still being considered. It simply said that “details of future legislation” would be announced soon and that the aim of the policy was to ensure “vulnerable people on the streets can be directed to the support they need, while addressing anti-social behavior.” to proceed.” .
Earlier this month, ministers also revived plans to ban “no-fault” evictions, where tenants are kicked out of rental properties at short notice and without explanation. This is a measure that could help curb the recent rise in homelessness.
But with another hand the government is stoking fires, according to councils and charities. The Big Issue magazine, which supports homeless people, said a recent Home Office decision to reduce the length of supported accommodation for asylum seekers after their claims have been processed from 56 to seven days risks putting up to 6,900 more people on the streets to drive the end of the year.
Emma Haddad, chief executive of St Mungo’s, a London-based charity, said that alongside a growing number of asylum seekers, outreach workers were also finding an unprecedented number of people made homeless by rising rents.
“We find people you wouldn’t have found on the street – not those with a long history of trauma or mental health issues, but those who had a house and a job, and often still have a job, but don’t have a roof over their head over her head,” she said.
The Home Office outlined a range of measures the government has taken to increase the supply of emergency accommodation and support people at risk of ending up on the streets. It also provided more than £1 billion to local authorities over three years to prevent evictions and offer people financial support to find a new home.
Some 119 council leaders wrote to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt last week saying funding was inadequate.
In the long term, charities say the solution is to invest in a new generation of social housing for people on low incomes. Since Margaret Thatcher’s government first allowed council tenants to buy their homes in the 1980s, the stock of social housing in England has been declining – by 14,100 in the last year alone, according to Deborah Garvie, policy manager at Shelter, the housing advocacy group. In some parts of the country, she said, children now spend entire childhoods on waiting lists.
Charities said Hunt had a short-term opportunity in his autumn statement to start tackling shortages in emergency and transitional accommodation by increasing housing benefits for people on low incomes to reflect huge recent increases in private rents.
“It’s not rocket science. If you can afford a larger percentage of available homes, you’re more likely to find one. “You can’t just magic up a house that’s affordable through housing benefit,” Garvie said.