With so much economic and political uncertainty ahead, including the possibility of a budget with further spending cuts, we must face head-on the impact that our housing crisis is already having on ordinary families throughout England.
The sheer number on households showing up in today’s homelessness statistics are extremely worrying. During 2015/16:
- 114,790 households making official applications for help, 57,750 (50%) of which were accepted for rehousing – a rise of over 30% in 5 years.
- 212,600 cases where councils gave help to prevent or relieve homelessness outside the legislation.
And on 31 March 2016:
- 71,540 households in temporary accommodation – a rise of 48% in 5 years.
- Including 19,290 households (27% of the total) accommodated out of their local area – a rise of 206% in 5 years.
- And 5,980 households in homeless B&Bs – a rise of 117% in 5 years – with the number of families in B&B for more than the legal 6 week limit continuing to rise (up 5% since last year).
But behind every one of these numbers are ordinary families struggling to get on with their lives, worrying about where they might be living next month or next year. Trying to maintain a normal life while living in cramped hostel rooms or being moved between extremely insecure temporary flats often miles from their original home. As last night’s BBC report shows, this life in limbo is exhausting parents and worrying children. It’s no way for any child to be living.
So why is this happening? Why are families losing their homes, struggling to find another, resorting to the council for help and then being offered such temporary accommodation?
The answer is a simple one – the chronic shortage of stable and affordable family homes.
When we look at why those seeking help lost their last settled home, by far the greatest trigger was the ending of a short-term private tenancy – which has risen 170% since 2010/11.
This isn’t good enough. Families need stable, affordable homes so that they can get on with their lives – holding down a job, supporting their children through school, caring for relatives, planning for the future.
And these latest statistics show that councils are now struggling to cope with the scale of families in housing crisis. While the numbers of homeless households has risen yet again, there were fewer cases where councils were able to prevent homelessness compared to last year (down from to 205,000 to 198,100).
This is because if a private landlord serves you with notice there is almost nothing you can do about it, however long you might have been in your home, regardless of whether you have paid the rent on time every single month, however much you’ve looked after the property and settled into the neighbourhood.
And landlords are now reluctant to let to struggling families, such as single parents, who might need housing benefit now or in the future to cover the rent: stagnating wages and freezes and caps to local housing allowance mean there’s a real risk that families facing financial difficulties will be unable to sustain rises in rents.
If we are to prevent homelessness, we must urgently provide stable tenancies and affordable homes to struggling families. Any further reductions in housing benefit will only make this crisis worse.