4,230 households – almost all with children – were owed a main homelessness duty between April and June of this year. These are families who councils have accepted they have a legal duty to help and only represent the tip of the iceberg. Thousands more single people, families judged intentionally homeless, or those refused help for not meeting strict criteria, are also facing life without a home in the capital.
This huge rise came after the Government introduced a Benefit Cap for families at £500 a week in some parts of London from April this year. Whilst this is unlikely to affect many households in Scotland, Northern England or Wales, it has made much of the capital, and surrounding areas, unaffordable to families on benefits due to soaring rents.
This is reflected in the figures. In London the main reason given for the loss of a settled home was the ending of an Assured Short Term tenancy, representing 1,450 households who became homeless in the period. This is a staggering rise of 78% on a year earlier showing that the very worst predictions about the Benefit Cap – which could see over 200,000 children made homeless – are already starting to appear.
And this really is just the beginning. The Benefit Cap had only been rolled out in four London boroughs during the period which these figures represent. Some families have been protected by Discretionary Housing Payments – money set aside by Councils intended for the most vulnerable and which is only a temporary measure. Even those families who did not receive this support may have clung onto their homes for a couples of months and not yet had to apply to the council for emergency help.
The Benefit Cap is currently being rolled out across the rest of London and the UK. This comes along with the Bedroom Tax – a measure which will not see a spike in homelessness immediately as Housing Benefits are gradually chipped away at and some of the poorest households in the country fall deeper and deeper into arrears. Almost all of those evictions are still to come and 600,000 people are set to be affected.
On top of this the Benefit Uprating Bill means that Housing Benefits are to be cut from next year whatever happens to rents. Rules already introduced which mean those under 35 are now only entitled to a room in a shared house are also having an impact as there aren’t enough rooms in shared houses to go round. This measure has – according to a report published by the DWP themselves – led to some landlords stopping renting to anyone under the age of 35 in case they lose their jobs and can no longer pay the rent.
Homelessness across the UK rose by 5% in the last year, a still alarming figures. But as tens of thousands of people are socially cleansed from the South East pressure on housing elsewhere will start to mount and rents are likely to rise everywhere. The upcoming Treasury created house price bubble is also likely to impact on rents whilst spending on building social housing (remember that?) is being cut to the bone.
It is impossible to predict how bad homelessness is going to get. But savage cuts to housing benefits, cuts to social housing, soaring rents and one of the least regulated private rental sectors in the world could lead to a truly terrifying future for millions of low income households in insecure and expensive private rented accommodation. Very soon losing your job in many parts of the UK is likely to mean losing your home. And there are no cheaper homes to go to. A dramatic failure of free market housing policies led to the crisis which saw rents sky-rocket and Housing Benefits take up much of the slack. Now those benefits are being stripped away, and rents are still soaring. The biggest housing crisis to hit the UK in generations could be just around the corner and not a single MP, from any of the main three parties, seems to give a flying fuck.
The latest homelessness figures can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/statutory-homelessness-in-england-april-to-june-2013
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