The worst effects of the housing crisis have been starkly illustrated by the news of unprecedented numbers of homeless families being sent out of London. These are families that have approached their local council as homeless and have been accepted as being owed a main housing duty.
The overall numbers paint a stark picture: 49,789 London homeless families moved out of borough between July 2011 and July 2014; 2,707 outside of London completely in the past two years, sometimes as far away as Leeds, Bradford and Manchester.
Yet it’s the human stories behind the stats that illustrate the trauma and upheaval facing homeless families.
A mother from East London, made homeless after being forced to resign from her job as a teacher due to illness, was made one offer of accommodation in Birmingham. She refused to be moved away from her family, community and child’s nursery, and now both mother and son have been left with just a sofa in a friend’s living room to sleep on.
A mother of two from North London was evicted at the end of her tenancy as she couldn’t afford the landlord’s new rent demands. She was offered temporary accommodation in Hertfordshire, a four hour round trip each day to work. She refused the accommodation, as the travel would have been unaffordable, was found intentionally homeless by her local council, and is now staring straight at the appalling prospect of street homelessness.
And there are plenty more examples of people facing desperate choices.
Of course, some might argue that we all have to make difficult decisions about where we live, because of work, children and the cost of housing. So why should we be outraged by homeless families being moved out of London?
There are three things to consider in response to this challenge:
Firstly, while many of us do have to make difficult decisions about where we live, most of us have a degree of choice as to the location of our work and housing, the type of accommodation we live in, and who we live close to. Households who find themselves homeless are instead faced with a devastating dilemma: accommodation hundreds of miles away from the place you know and grew-up in; or nothing – at best, a friend’s sofa; at worst, your children being taken into care.
This is a choice that few of us can comprehend being put before us, but one that everyday an increasing number of homeless families are having to make.
Secondly, families with fewer ‘financial assets’ tend to rely more heavily on ‘people assets’. That is to say that local support networks, friends and family play a crucial part in daily life, such as babysitting, especially when this support cannot be purchased or sought elsewhere in the country.
Removing homeless households from their communities, and forcing them to move hundreds of miles away, undermines their chances of getting back on track, or of remaining in education or employment.
Finally, we should all care, because homelessness can happen to anyone. All it could take for you to lose your home is a sudden illness, the loss of your job, or the loss of a partner.
Councils in London and other expensive areas face the increasingly difficult task of providing accommodation within area due to a combination of the increasing rents, high demand for properties and the impacts of welfare reforms such as the Benefit Cap.
So how can we put a brake on out of area placements?
The ultimate answer is for the Government to build more affordable homes. But in the meantime pressure must be taken off local authorities by increasing the funding for temporary accommodation. Until then, an increasing number of homeless households will find themselves a long way from home.