On May 6 2021, Londoners will head to the ballot box in an election like no other. As coronavirus (COVID-19) began to take hold last year, the mayoral and local elections scheduled for May 2020 were postponed for twelve months. One year later, and the pandemic has inescapably impacted almost every aspect of our lives – but its impact has not been felt equally. From the families forced to spend lockdown in one-room temporary accommodation, to the private renters who have lost income but have no recourse to public funds, the pandemic has tightened the grip of London’s housing emergency.
It is now more important than ever that the next mayor takes bold steps to tackle the inequality that is rife in London’s housing system. Our London hub is calling on every mayoral candidate to commit to a strategy which will end London’s housing emergency for good.
Every Londoner should have access to a safe and affordable home
At the heart of London’s housing emergency is a simple reality: we have failed to build the truly affordable social homes that Londoners need. For years now, London has been losing more social rent homes through sales than it has been delivering, and this has directly fuelled the capital’s affordability crisis. Delivering social housing on the scale that is needed must be a number one priority for the next mayor.
The disappearance of London’s social housing has been compounded by the rising cost of private rents, which have been rising much faster than incomes for years. Between 2011 – 2021, average private rents in the capital shot up by a quarter, and in 2018/19, private renters on lower incomes in London spent 58% of their income on rent. The lack of social housing in the capital means that many Londoners on lower incomes have no option but to rent privately, and many of these private renters have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Between February and August 2020, the number of private renters who rely on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to help pay the rent increased by 36%. In some boroughs, like Barnet, Newham and Haringey, more than 60% of private renters now rely on LHA to pay the rent. LHA is supposed to cover private rents at the 30th percentile (i.e. the cheapest 30% of rents in any area) – but the rates have now been frozen by the government. And because rents have continued to rise, LHA rates already fail to cover the cost of renting in much of the country. In nearly 80% of London, the LHA rate falls short of covering the cost of renting a modest one-bedroom home.
The high cost of housing in London means many private renters who get LHA are hit by the benefit cap. The government’s benefit cap limits the amount that working-age claimants can receive, unless they earn a certain amount every month. This has not been possible for many during the pandemic, and over the last year, the number of families in London who had their benefits capped nearly trebled. The benefit cap means that many Londoners cannot afford the rent – pushing families into debt, rent arrears, and putting many at severe risk of homelessness.
Homelessness in our capital will continue to rise if people cannot afford their rent. The next Mayor must lobby national government in the interests of private renters, call for Local Housing Allowance to be unfrozen, and for the benefit cap to be removed.
But private renters face other worries in addition to whether LHA will cover their rent. They also face widespread discrimination when looking for a home, simply because they receive housing benefit. Women, people of colour, and disabled people are disproportionately impacted by ‘no DSS’ policies, as they are more likely to claim housing benefit. This practice is discriminatory; locking people out of properties they could otherwise afford simply because they receive housing benefit. The government’s Right to Rent policy, a cornerstone of the hostile environment, encourages further discrimination in the private rented sector. This policy requires landlords to check the immigration status of prospective private renters, and has shown to lead to discrimination against migrants and racial discrimination in the private rented sector.
For many Londoners, claiming housing benefit has not been an option. During the pandemic, people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) have struggled to afford the rent if they have been unable to work or lost income. NRPF is a condition imposed on most migrants with time-limited leave to remain in the UK, and means that you cannot access social security, like welfare or homelessness assistance, in times of need. Many private renters with NRPF have faced destitution during the pandemic because they have lost their jobs but cannot claim Universal Credit.
The next mayor must take steps to ensure that every Londoner can access a safe, affordable home. This means calling on all private landlords in London to stop discriminating against tenants on housing benefit, and actively calling on the government to end Right to Rent and remove the NRPF condition.
We must improve the standards of Temporary Accommodation across London
The pandemic has also shone a stark light on the standards of temporary accommodation (TA) in the London. Homeless families in London have been forced to spend lockdowns in completely unsuitable temporary accommodation. Sometimes they’re living in just one room, or without basic facilities like laundry provision, Wi-Fi or kitchen facilities. This has made it close to impossible for families to get by with daily life in lockdown. On top of this, the cost of temporary accommodation is astronomical. In 2019/20, councils in England spent £1.2 billion on temporary accommodation. In Hackney, our community organiser has been working with families to highlight the issues they face in temporary accommodation and campaign for the change they want to see.
Ultimately, central government has a vital role to play in ending the housing emergency by improving the benefits system, building the social homes that London desperately needs, and lifting these families out of homelessness.
But the next mayor must also set the standard for temporary accommodation across the city, to improve the lives for families living in TA. This means implementing London-wide guidance for minimum standards of TA, and encouraging local authorities to commit to these standards.
We have published our recommendations to the next mayor, which you can read in our full manifesto.
Help spread the word by sharing this blog on social media, where you can ask all of London’s mayoral candidates to commit to finally end London’s housing emergency for good.