The number of these families living in B&Bs – which usually just means one room, often with shared facilities – has leapt by a shocking 35% compared to a year earlier. 990 of these families had been living in this kind of accommodation for over six weeks, over double the number from the same period last year.
Every measure of homelessness has risen according to the latest statistics, with 13,520 households accepted as homeless by Local Authorities between January and March 2015, a jump of 8% on a year earler.
The main reason for families becoming homeless was the loss of an assured tenancy with a private sector landlord. Soaring rents, stagnant wages and shrinking benefits – combined with a barely regulated private rental sector where landlords can evict on a whim – is driving the homelessness epidemic as many people can simply no longer afford to pay their rent.
This week’s figures only represent a very small sample of the true number of homeless people in the UK. Only those legally eligible for help from local authorites are included, which in practice means only those with children, significant disabilities or health problems and people over pensionable age. Homelessness charities have warned that this measure only shows the tip of the iceberg of even these groups as recent changes to the law mean families fobbed off into insecure private rented accommodation by councils are no longer included in the figures.
A recent report found that rents have risen by 10% in the last year, and that’s across the UK, not just in London. George Osborne has already pegged rises in Housing Benefits at just 1%. The impacts of the Bedroom Tax and first Benefit Cap have still not been fully felt as local authorities have used Discretionary Housing Payments to top up Housing Benefits. These payments will soon come to an end. The number of houses built at a social rent, meaning they are genuinely affordable to low income families, fell to the lowest level in the history of council housing in 2013/14.
A perfect storm has already been created and we have not yet seen anything like the worst of it. The full impact of Iain Duncan Smith’s bungled welfare reforms have not yet been fully felt according to managers of homelessness services in local councils when questioned by homelessness charities last year (PDF).
But even this will just be the beginning. The government have already pledged a lower Benefit Cap, which will leave almost the entire private rented sector in the south of England unaffordable for out of work families. Tens of thousands of people in social housing will also be affected, particularly larger families who will have nowhere they can afford to go. Osbourne is also likely to scrap housing benefit completely for those under 21, whilst a mass sell off of housing association properties is also on the cards. And that’s just what we know about. Billions more is set to be cut from the social security budget, and however the Chancellor does that it will mean many people can no longer afford to stay in their home.
Disabled People Against Cuts have already called a protest outside next week’s budget. Everyone who cares about having somewhere to live over the next few years should join them and say #balls2thebudget. Please join, share and tweet the facebook page for the event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1455266081436327/
You can read the latest homelessness statistics at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/statutory-homelessness-in-england-january-to-march-2015
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