The Homelessness Holocaust That Has Barely Even Begun

Despite the pleadings of Grant Shapps, the obnoxious little spiv in charge of housing, an unprecedented homelessness crisis is now inevitable in the UK.

The Local Housing Allowance (LHA – formerly Housing Benefit) caps have not even started to bite yet. The introduction of the cap is being staggered, depending on the date on which LHA was first claimed or last assessed.  The cap came into force for prospective tenants on the 1st April 2011.  For existing tenants the cap comes in 9 months after the date on which the claim for LHA was first made.  This means those who have a claim which began last April will have faced the implementation of the cap in January this year.  Only around a third of private sector tenants are likely to have seen their benefit capped so far.

Even those who have been subject to the cap are unlikely to have been evicted yet.  Eviction can be a lengthy process and one in which families in particular must go through in order to qualify for any help from the council.  If a household is not formally evicted then they may be deemed ‘intentionally homeless’.  Whilst councils have a legal duty to protect children they have no such duty towards adults who have been judged to have given up a home voluntarily.  In practice this means Local Authorities may offer to take children into care, whilst leaving the parents to fend for themselves.

There are huge numbers of eviction cases currently passing through the courts in London.  Canny tenants may still be paying their rent minus the amount which has been deducted from their LHA.  This means it will take much longer for arrears to build up and the eviction process will be much slower.

Newham Council, one of London’s poorest boroughs, claim they have 32,000 people currently in urgent need of housing and are attempting to relocate residents across the UK.  Only some of these people will be facing homelessness as a result of eviction due to the benefit cap.  The toxic combination of the cap for new tenants, placing most houses in the Borough out of reach, and the ongoing recession, is the most likely reason Newham Council have so many homeless people on their books.  These factors will create a torrent of homeless people in their own right, which will only increase as more people see houses repossessed, rents become unaffordable, and debt and money problems mount up for struggling families.

Grant Shapps revealed he is ignorant of his own policies when he claimed there are 1000 properties available on Housing Benefit within five miles of Newham.   Despite the fact that 1000 homes to house 32,000 people is hardly a rosy situation, he seemed unaware that Local Housing Allowance is a regional benefit now set at the bottom 30% of local rental costs.  The maximum available LHA for a four bedroom property in Newham is £300 a week.  The Guardian was only able to find 68 properties within that range within five miles of the borough.  Even then some of those properties will carry the ubiquitous condition of No DSS, meaning they are unavailable to people on benefits.  The housing crisis in Newham is far, far greater than Shapps has tried to pretend.

The graph above (from Shelter) disputes Shapps’ claim that rents are falling.  Quite the opposite is happening.  A combination of soaring rents and a plunging economy would be enough to create mass homelessness on their own, without any changes to housing benefits.  The 13% rise in homelessness (and 23% rise in street homelessness) reported by Shelter last year was little to do with Welfare Reform and far more to do with a flat-lined economy and rising unemployment.  We haven’t seen anything yet.

The LHA caps will push homelessness even higher over the next year as more people become subject to them and are evicted as a result.  The impact of the caps on LHA have barely begun to be felt.

Sadly it doesn’t end there.  The aforementioned change to set LHA rates at the bottom 30% of the rental market has still not yet been implemented for all tenants.  According to the Chartered Institute of Housing this move will place 800,000 properties out of reach for those who are unemployed, disabled, or on a low income.  Glasgow, Birmingham and Liverpool are all singled out as cities which may yet come to have a homelessness problem to rival that of London.  Some of those young people may come to London in the search for jobs and housing, and end up on the streets as so many did in the 1980s and early 1990s.  This time however they will be replaced by low income families socially cleansed from London and other areas.

Even this time-bomb isn’t enough for the toff Government, most of whom were brought up in mansions.  Previously, under LHA rules,  people under 25 were only eligible for a room in a shared house.  This has been increased to 35.  No assessment has been done to see whether there are enough rooms in shared houses for that many people.  And houses full of 20 year old students are hardly likely to opt to share with people just about old enough to be their parents.  This is yet another change that has yet to be felt and in particular is likely to impact on street homelessness.   Those with no children, who are not deemed ‘vulnerable’ (meaning they are not assessed as sick and disabled or claiming a pension), are not eligible for any assistance from Local Authorities. This leaves many younger people with no option but the street.

Homeless charities are reporting desperate funding problems.  This will mean less hostel and night-shelter accommodation.  Despite the lies of UKIP, many recent arrivals to London from Eastern Europe are currently on the streets, unable to secure work, housing or even afford a ticket home.  More young people leave home everyday, sometimes for economic reasons, sometimes to escape abuse.  The toughened benefit sanctions regime and the assessments for health related benefits, are seeing benefits stripped away on an unprecedented scale.  Hundreds of thousands of people are being left with not enough to feed themselves or their families.  New rules mean that LHA can no longer be paid direct to landlords.  In desperation people will dip into LHA payments to feed themselves or keep the heating on.  More people are likely to slip into drug or alcohol dependency as poverty bites and begin the downward spiral which can lead to life on the streets.  Previous ‘cardboard cities’, not seen in London for 20 years, will pale into insignificance compared to what’s to come.

Plans to increase Social Housing rents to the same level as the private sector will mean even Council Tenants in some areas will no longer have their housing costs met by benefits.  The Tories are currently forcing through laws which will ban squatting, whilst more evictions of traveller sites are likely.  The Government could not have created a more perfect storm.

The real bombshell is not set to hit until next year.  The £500 a week benefit cap will mean the end of life in Greater London for larger families on low incomes.  Tens of thousands of people will be made homeless at a stroke, most of them children.  The social chaos this will cause is unimaginable.  The personal tragedy for those concerned almost unthinkable.

There has long been a housing crisis in the UK and the last Labour administration did nothing to address it.  But the changes made by this Government will be devastating.  Homelessness wrecks lives, often leaving permanent scars.  Mass homelessness, on a scale never seen before in the UK,  may come to be seen as one of Cameron’s most tragic legacies.

28 responses to “The Homelessness Holocaust That Has Barely Even Begun

  1. It is then, when ALL this kicks in and the evidence begins to show that the people will revolt in their Thousands!!

  2. It won’t all kick in at once by any means. Eviction means a court appearance. You can’t have hundreds of thousands of people all appearing in court at once. There aren’t enough courts to put too many people on the street at once. we’re going to need literally thousands of new courts to cope with this and those that exist will find themselves clogged to the gunwhales with people trying to plead their own cases due to the lack of legal aid. The judiciary are going to be the ones who revolt, not the general population

  3. “And houses full of 20 year old students are hardly likely to opt to share with people just about old enough to be their parents.”

    It’s already happening. I think the oldest in this 10 room Victorian, shared Liverpool house is around 55 and the youngest about 8, with (admittedly now unemployed) graduates inbetween.

  4. This is so scary for people, as a single adult ill person I managed to move last year to somewhere that falls within HB new rents but was very lucky to do so and now reading the above I could have been someone facing homelessness so easily.

  5. yvonne lighten

    but what is the alternative. people have been living in accommodation where the rent may be 800 or 1000 pound per week. most working people cannot afford that so why should people out of work and claiming housing benefit have the best accommodation?

    • Maybe you don’t know – far and away the majoority of people on HB actually are working. They just don’t earn enough to be able to rent where they work so their rents are topped up with HB. These are the people being forced to move up North to where there’s no work. On the one hand this may save a little in HB but these people will now be on JSA. It’ll actually cost the country more to do this than to leave people alone where they are. The point then is obviously not saving money. .

  6. yvonne lighten-the vast majority of housing benefit recipients are not unemployed,a large number of working people are/will also be effected.

  7. The alternative is to cap rents.

  8. Yvonne is making the mistake that so many are making, thinking HB is only for the unemployed, but most people claiming it are employed in low paid public sector jobs keeping everything going. The working class simply don’t have the earning power to compete with the middle classes because of the inequality of reward for work done.
    I hope the reality will be visible in the form of tented cities within the cities with associated soup kitchens, food parcels and charity workers like oxfam and the red cross. We could start knitting blankets for them. And we disabled people could polish up our begging bowls.
    This is not just our Government failing, it is the collapse of capitalism itself and we need to start thinking about how to build a better system altogether.

  9. This is something my colleagues and I were talking about several years ago – working at the coalface gives you the insight that those above refuse to see. Haringey’s housing AD has only recently flagged it up, but as the problems started under Labour he probably wanted to protect the MBE they gave him.

  10. I say ‘started’, I should say continued. Labour should have repealed RTB and put in place rent caps and tough regulations in the private rental sector, but they didn’t of course. They also brought in ALMOs by blackmailing councils with money for repairs needed to meet the ‘Decent Homes’ standard they set up. – a first step towards privatisation of social housing. All governments of the last 30 years have brought us to this with their neoliberal fetishization of home ownership and obsession with a smaller state.

  11. It doesn’t matter if people are unemployed or not, sick or not, with children or not, over 25 or not – everyone should have a place to live and it should be at a suitable standard. I have to laugh at the idea of councils being concerned about children from evicted households when they are willing to allow the goverenment to make under 25’s homeless if they have lost or estranged from their parents or are from broken homes…

  12. The fact that has escaped most is the simple one of making a fast buck. The olympics commence this year and has sent rentals through the roof. This would have been anticipated last year by government. Why have Housing Benefit cover rents when incoming olympic tourism will require London accommodation and be willing to pay over the odds for such. The simple solution is move the poor out of the capital to make available accommodation for the olympic influx. The HB cap will really only impact the London area as has been seen recently in the media (unless of course it is happening elsewhere and is not being reported) and now we see large numbers of poor families in private rented accommodation being relocated to areas that will prevent them visiting family or even going to work – remember most HB recipients are in low paid full time work. This void will be filled by the Olympics.

  13. this is happening already were i live in west london my god i see thease poor sods the liveing dead out there on the streets ive just moved back to lodon after being away for 5 years,im shocked it never used to be like this..there are 3 londons ,corperate zillionaire london ,middle london ..and lower london whitch is like the film ..the road..this cant go on this is crazy you have zillionaire london and now 3rd world london its like calcutter or bombay..we need fair rents again i mean if you have ever tried renting in the private sector and your on hb …forgete it your at the mercy of …LETTINGS AGENTS..BUY2LET LANDLORDS,with there obsestion with excluding everyone on benifits.there will be thousands on the streets its happening already..

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  15. the drop to shared accomodation for under 35s is already happening. i’m 31 and deperately trying to secure accomodation. there is literally nowhere in london that will take hb at these rates (£69pw in inner London, come on!). i’m trying deperately to falsify documents effectively, but this is made very difficult by landlords and agents wanting complicated credit checks, which the prospective tenant has to find the cash to pay through the nose for. for many of us, this is a cut of 2/3 of our housing benefit.

    • £69 in inner London! Well there’s proof they are making sure the poor can’t access the capital (wouldn’t look good at the olympics).
      I live in Newcastle and the single room rate here is about £60… fairly reasonable. But London is much more than £9 a week more expensive!!

      • I agree Betty its all a deliberate plan to my mind……

        • We should all bear in mind that estate agents across London are currently experiencing multiple enquiries from anxious French rich people in Paris, many of whom (LOTS) want to buy in London if this Holland (sp?) bloke gets elected over there. What’s that going to do to UK house prices, eh? Have the govt factored that into the benefits cap? I rather doubt it!

  16. And the questions you all should be asking is this one Thatcher built 395,000 council houses and labour built 1200 mostly for larger families.

    If you do not build homes for the poor or you allow a few million into the UK then sadly they are going to seek homes driving up the rents which is what labour intended to do, private rental being expensive because of demand.

    Your now blaming the Tories for doing what labour would have done in the end, answer build more social housing, labour have rejected this saying no more sink hole estates, I have yet to find a sink hole estate living on an estate all my life, oh yes we have a dumping area of drug addict and problem families, but you will get this in any society, but the vast majority of people living on housing estate look after their homes and live good lives, but sadly not to labour, you have to be the wrong kind to want a council house.

    If you think this Tory is bad then what is Caroline Flint

    • Any new council homes built under Thatcher would have been a legacy from previous govt before she got her claws in with Right to Buy, once that was introduced council homes stopped being built and the proceeds of sale went to central govt. Thatcher’s RTB has robbed us of over 1m truly affordable homes and also robbed councils of vital rental income. Cameron’s relaunch of RTB with a big discount will rob us of more. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to blame Tories here. And Blair’s equally neoliberal Labour as well – they distributed some of the centralized funds but only by blackmailing councils into setting up ALMOs – councils needed this money to meet Labour’s ‘Decent Homes’ standard as they had lost income which affected their ability to maintain their remaining stock.

      This goes beyond tribalism and party politics, it’s about the ruling system of the last 30 years: neoliberal capitalism.

    • Estate Resident

      It’s not immigrants per se that is the problem, it is the way immigrants are being USED to undermine and ultimately destroy social housing. Round my way, as soon as a property becomes vacated an immigrants move in. The end game is the total destruction destruction of social housing; Labour, Tories whatever you want to call them are all in this together. This country is turning into (and many parts already) are a third world shithole.

      • @Estate Resident
        While immigration no doubt places strain on housing and services; I’m afraid I have to correct the assumptions in your comment. Housing is not simply given to immigrants over and above British people.
        If someone becomes homeless, or is in unsuitable housing, they have to tick various boxes before the council will agree to house them. These are things like: are they intentionally homeless? Are they eligible for housing? Do they have a local connection? Are they in a ‘priority need’ group?
        People who are NOT eligible for housing include asylum seekers, people from another country, illegal immigrants, and UK citizens who have lived abroad for some time. Local connection is a bit more complicated but also excludes many immigrants as well as people who have moved around the UK a lot so don’t have a ‘local connection’ to anywhere.
        The ‘priority need’ element is also a big hurdle. To be counted as priority need you must be elderly, disabled, have children, or a few other things, but the rules are different in every borough and even the disabled aren’t counted as priority everywhere.
        In short: it is incredibly difficult to be accepted as homeless by the local council.
        Any immigrants who have been housed by the council will have fulfilled the above criteria. This means that they will be people who HAVE BEEN GRANTED asylum (no longer ‘asylum seekers’). This means that by and large, they have experienced some terrible things – it is not easy to be granted asylum, contrary to popular belief (I thought it was until I saw someone go through the process).
        In addition they must belong to a priority group as mentioned above – many will qualify because they are affected by trauma, for the reasons they are seeking asylum. However not all areas would count this as ‘priority need’ (British people affected by trauma/mental health problems are not always counted either).
        So, of all the immigrants, only those who have applied for and been granted asylum are eligible for council housing at all. They are then subject to the same rules as British people.

        Please note: the government are very keen to scapegoat people – if we blame the immigrants/unemployed/disabled for the problems in this country, we stop looking at the politicians whose socially destructive policies are the real cause of our troubles.

        Why don’t you make friends with these people, help them integrate into Britian, show them we’re not all bad 😉 …and together the real people, the ‘man on the street’ can act as a force to overturn the parasites at the top who are bleeding our country dry. I guess I’m thinking of after the war, when everyone really was ‘all in it together’ and we invented the social security system and the NHS. (Since the 1970’s, the wealth divide between rich and poor has skyrocketed – before that it had reduced somewhat.)

  17. Well, maybe the rich landlords will have to reduce their rents!

    • They aren’t rich. They’re covering their mortgages and their expenses. Rents and mortgages are high because of demand. The banks are using the monies given to them by government to speculate (pushes prices up) and foreigners, rich ones, are coming here buying houses as holiday homes which they then use a few weeks a year. There’s a lot of competition for homes in the UK,a lot of it’s from rich foreigners and it pushes UK house prices up beyond what UK workers can afford. There’s also the problem that CEOs have awarded themselves huge rises in recent decades as opposed to spreading the wealth among the workforce. Wages haven’t kept up with inflation. Blaming rich landlords is simplistic and doesn’t address the problem.

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