Crisis study: Homelessness could spread to middle class

Tony Gosling tony at
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 -, 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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