Young people are at increasing risk of being made homeless as the Government’s welfare reforms begin to bite, a report warns today.
‘The Homelessness Monitor’ cites rising unemployment, spiralling rents and declining benefit protection as a lethal cocktail for those struggling to afford rent – let alone a mortgage.
The report, produced by homelessness charity Crisis and think tank The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, warns that councils across England are already struggling to cope with the rise in rough sleepers – while a staggering 94 per cent predict it will harder than it is already to house 25-to-34-year-olds by 2020.
Labour said the current homeless figures were a “national scandal”, but the Government insisted it was pumping millions of pounds into trying to stop people being forced to live on the streets.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Brian Robson called on the Government to take more action to tackled “a dearth of affordable, secure rented housing”.
He said: “The Government has set out welcome plans to build new homes, but these will not be within reach of families who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
“We need action to make sure that new homes are available to people at all income levels, and that there is a safety net in place for those who are at risk of homelessness.”
He added: “In the immediate term, lifting the freeze on working age benefits would help to stop people’s incomes falling even further behind.”
According to Homeless Link, the number of rough sleepers in England has risen from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,134 in 2016.
London has the highest number of rough sleepers, with the figure more than doubling from 415 in 2010 to 964 in 2016.
Today’s report shows that almost two thirds – 64 per cent - of councils across England are struggling to find social tenancies for homeless people, while half find it ‘very difficult’ to assist applicants into privately rented accommodation.
Using evidence from 162 of England’s 326 local authorities, the report also reveals that 85 per cent of councils are struggling to help single people aged 25-to-34 years old into accommodation, and 88 per cent are finding it difficult to house large families.
The overwhelming majority of responding councils – 89 per cent - said they are worried the roll out of Universal Credit will further exacerbate homelessness, mainly due to the potential impact on landlords’ willingness to let to homeless people.
Alongside that, welfare cuts and the low level of Local Housing Allowance relative to rent rates are also major barriers to councils’ attempts to house rough sleepers.
Another factor is the axing of housing benefit for under-21-year-olds, which the Government quietly confirmed it was pushing forward with last month.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, argued that more money was needed to help people struggling to afford growing rent rates.
He said: “The situation for the thousands who find themselves homeless in England is becoming more and more desperate each year.
“Until the number of truly affordable rented homes increases significantly, councils will continue to come under huge financial pressure, with dreadful consequences for the most vulnerable in our society.
“Private renting is often the only choice homeless people have.
“That’s why Crisis is calling on the Government to invest in schemes that support people into the private rented sector, such as establishing and underwriting a national rent deposit guarantee. The Government is already pouring billions into ‘Help to Buy’ support.
“What we really need is ‘Help to Rent’.”
Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey described today’s report as “a terrible reminder of the consequences of Conservative Ministers’ seven years of failure on housing.”
He said: “The level of homelessness in England in 2017 is a national scandal.
“Homelessness fell under Labour but rough sleeping has now more than doubled since 2010, and has risen every year under the Conservatives.
“This is a direct result of decisions made by Conservative Ministers: a steep drop in investment for affordable homes, crude cuts to housing benefit, reduced funding for homelessness services, and a refusal to help private renters.
“Ministers should back Labour’s plans to end rough sleeping and tackle the causes of rising homelessness.”
A Government spokesman said: “This Government is determined to help the most vulnerable in society.
“That’s why we’re investing £550 million during this parliament to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, with a focus on prevention. We’re also providing £870 million in Discretionary Housing Payments to support those who need it the most.
“By backing Bob Blackman MP’s Homelessness Reduction Bill, we’re changing the law so that people get the help they need to avoid becoming homeless in the first place.
“Our reforms to Housing Benefit are about restoring fairness to the system, ensuring that claimants face the same choices as those in work.”