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The number of people sleeping rough has visibly increased not just in London but across the UK’s major towns and cities. In fact, the government’s own counts show that there were more than 4,000 people sleeping rough in England last autumn, an incredible 90% increase over the previous five years.
But it’s not just rough-sleeping that’s on the rise, homelessness in all its forms is increasing sharply. More families with children are also losing the fight to keep a roof over their heads. Thankfully you won’t see these families sleeping on the streets, they’re hidden away in dingy hostel rooms or temporary flats instead. There were over 124,000 homeless children living in temporary accommodation at the end of last year. The highest level recorded since 2007.
At Shelter we know homelessness is neither inevitable or excusable. Good advice, a functioning welfare safety net and access to genuinely affordable homes would mean fewer people becoming homeless in the first place.
This is why we joined forces with other homeless charities to call on all the major parties to commit to ending rough sleeping in their manifestos. So we’re delighted that they have all chosen to do so.
• The Conservatives will end rough sleeping by 2027 and promise a new Homelessness Reduction Taskforce and Housing First pilots.
• Labour promises a national plan to end rough sleeping by the end of the next parliament. This will include 4,000 homes reserved for former rough sleepers.
• The Liberal Democrats also pledge to end rough sleeping (time table unspecified) and include a commitment to Housing First.
Such cross-party consensus is hugely welcome and Shelter looks forward to working with whoever forms the next government to ensure these pledges are delivered.
While working to end rough-sleeping is a noble aim, it will only tackle the most visible part of the wider homelessness crisis. Last year marked Shelter’s 50th anniversary and we calculated over a quarter of a million people in England were without a home. The next government must rise to this broader challenge too.
There has already been some encouraging progress in recent months with the passing of the Homeless Reduction Act. For the first time local councils will have to meaningfully help anyone faced with losing their home – paving the way for a more modern approach to prevention. However, on its own this won’t significantly reduce homelessness. To do that the next government also has to sort out housing benefit levels and increase the number of genuinely affordable homes available.
Reducing homelessness in all its forms requires a long-term commitment to provide people on lower incomes with access to homes that they can actually afford without needing housing benefit top-ups. It also means ensuring the welfare safety net is equipped and properly funded to tackle homelessness by quickly getting people back on their feet and into stable housing.
That’s why Shelter is calling on the next government to commit to building 500,000 homes at living rents over the next five years. These new homes will be targeted at low earners currently struggling with expensive and unstable private renting, and would provide them with a lifeline through rents linked to local incomes that they can actually afford to pay.
As well as long-term solutions we also know we have to deal with the here and now. Our housing benefit system is at breaking point. The removal of housing benefit for 18-21 year olds risks putting more young people in dangerous situations on our streets. And multiple cuts to housing benefit are making it increasingly difficult for private renters to find anywhere they can afford to rent. Against this backdrop it’s not surprising that the leading cause of homelessness is the loss of a private tenancy. To stop things getting any worse we want to see the next government act to restore the safety net for young people, and end the current freeze on housing benefit.
No matter who walks through the doors of number 10 we stand ready and willing to work with them to turn around the housing crisis, and give everyone the chance of a safe, stable and affordable home for the future.