Crisis study: Homelessness could spread to middle class
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Tue Aug 30 21:15:58 BST 2011
Homelessness could spread to middle class, Crisis study warns
Homelessness charity points to direct link
between economic downturn and welfare cuts, and
rising numbers living on streets
Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor -
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 August 2011 20.33 BST
The economic downturn and the government's deep
cuts to welfare will drive up homelessness over
the next few years, raising the spectre of middle
class people living on the streets, a major study warns.
The report by the homelessness charity Crisis,
seen by the Guardian, says there is a direct link
between the downturn and rising homelessness as
cuts to services and draconian changes to
benefits shred the traditional welfare safety net.
In the 120-page study, co-authored by academics
at the University of York and Heriot-Watt
University, Crisis highlights figures released
over the summer which show councils have reported
44,160 people accepted as homeless and placed in
social housing, an increase of 10% on the
previous year and the first increase in almost a decade.
Last year another 189,000 people were also placed
in temporary accommodation such as small hotels
and B&Bs to prevent them from becoming
homeless, an increase of 14% on the previous year.
Crisis says that with no sign of economic
recovery in sight, there are already signs that
homelessness is returning to British streets. In
London, rough sleeping, the most visible form of
homelessness, rose by 8% last year. Strikingly,
more than half of the capital's 3,600 rough
sleepers are now not UK citizens: most are
migrants from eastern Europe who cannot find work
and, unable to get benefits or return home, are
left to fend for themselves on the streets.
The charity says the evidence is that the current
recession has seen the poor suffer the most, but
other parts of society may be in jeopardy if the
government's radical welfare agenda is acted on as the economy stutters.
"Any significant reduction of the welfare safety
net in the UK as a result of coalition reforms
may, of course, bring the scenario of middle
class homelessness that much closer," the report states.
The charity says that the government needs to
reverse cuts to housing benefit and invest
urgently in new housing. It also calls on
ministers to withdraw the most radical provisions
in the localism bill, which would make "temporary
accommodation" for needy families just that.
Under the new legislation councils would be
forced to remove parents and children who have
been in a hotel for a year. At present the assistance is open-ended.
There is also an alarming trend in what the
charity calls the "hidden homeless" families
forced to squeeze into one room rather than a
flat. It says 630,000 households are now
"overcrowded", with London and the south-east the
worst hit. This trend could worsen: this summer a
survey by the National Landlords Association
found more than half of private landlords were
planning to reduce the number of properties they
let to tenants on housing benefits. Crisis says
more families will be forced to share an ever decreasing number of homes.
In a separate report, Channel 4 News will
broadcast further evidence that official figures
underestimate the true picture of homelessness.
In Crawley, West Sussex, the Open House hostel
said it turned away people needing a bed almost
2,000 times last year, although official figures
estimate there are just seven homeless people in
the town. Two-thirds of homelessness
organisations nationwide told Channel 4 there had
been a rise in rough sleeping in their area.
Leslie Morphy, Crisis's chief executive, said:
"We are extremely worried. Homelessness in both
its visible and hidden forms is already rising
and as the economic downturn causes further
increases in unemployment and pressure on
households' finances, homelessness is likely to
continue to rise. This research is clear that it
is the welfare and housing systems in the UK that
traditionally have broken the link between
unemployment and poverty and homelessness, yet
these are now being radically dismantled by the
coalition government. The government must listen
and change course before this flow of homeless people becomes a flood."
Crisis argues that instead of redoubling its
efforts to end the "scandal" of homelessness, the
government is in effect making it impossible for
those on low incomes to pay their rent. It says
in the past British welfare policy, unlike the
that in the US, has linked housing benefit to
actual rents. But the government's changes break
this link and mean that claimants will be priced
out of swaths of the country or end up on the streets in wealthy regions.
The report also says the government's new
"affordable" house building regime is likely to
generate fewer than 50,000 homes by 2015, "well
short of the 80,000 required to meet ministers'
targets". Gone will be the lifetime tenancies
offered by councils which had to give priority to
those in need. Instead, under new powers, local
authorities will be able to choose families with "local connections".
With the coalition's welfare reform bill heading
to the Lords and MPs voting on the localism bill
next week, Labour said Crisis's warnings were a
"timely reminder of a looming homeless
catastrophe". Karen Buck, Labour's welfare
spokesperson, said the government had played down
the rising number of people who thanks to the
economic downturn were forced to rely on housing benefit.
She said that since the government took power
another 150,000 families had been forced on to
housing benefit. "The numbers relying on housing
benefit to help with housing costs have been
soaring. These figures include not just the
unemployed but hundreds of thousands of working
families. Rising rents, benefit cuts and housing
shortages risk a homeless catastrophe with all
the associated human and financial costs"
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