People Living in Caves as UK Homelessness Reaches Five-Year High

Tony Gosling tony at
Fri Oct 4 02:05:25 BST 2013

People Living in Caves as UK Homelessness Reaches Five-Year High

Global Research, July 11, 2013
Socialist Web Site
& Social Inequality

homeless in caves005.jpg

Homeless men and women are living in a network of 
disused sandstone caves near the town centre of 
Stockport, Greater Manchester. There have been up 
to four people a night sleeping rough in the cave 
system perched on a 20-foot precipice overhanging 
a river, only a short distance from public view.

A report in the Manchester Evening News noted 
that Stockport in the north of England has seen a 
42 percent increase in homelessness in just one 
year. Jonathan Billings, a project manager with 
the local homeless charity Wellsprings, said, 
“The number of people turning up each day for 
support has soared from around 60 to 70 to around 140 in the last three years.”

His organization has witnessed a particular surge 
in demand among more middle class, affluent 
people. After having worked for years, they lost 
everything in the downturn, he said. Billings 
emphasised the risk these people face when sleeping without shelter:

“Unfortunately when people are sleeping rough 
they will come to very dangerous places. I know 
of people who have fallen into the river.”

Official statistics published by the government 
show a five-year high in homelessness across the 
UK. This includes 54,540 households declared 
homeless, with some 4,500 households now living 
in bed and breakfast accommodation (B&B).

This figure includes a year on year increase for 
a growing number of families who have been left 
stuck in B&B accommodation beyond the six-week 
legal limit. Many of these families are being 
forced to live in a single room with no cooking 
facilities, having to share a bathroom with many 
other families in the same building.

The number of people being housed outside the 
area where they initially are from has risen by 
14 percent, with 9,000 of the households as of 
March 31, 2013 having to live in another local 
authority. This leaves many a long distance away 
from work, family and support networks.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the homeless 
charity Shelter, said that many families were at the “breaking point”.

“Behind these numbers are thousands of families 
up and down the country who have lost the battle 
to stay in their homes,” he explained.

In the last two years the numbers of people 
defined as sleeping rough across the UK has risen by 31 percent.

Families face increasing pressure trying to make 
ends meet. Shelter reported that 4 out of 10 
families with children have had to cut down on 
what they spend on food in the last year. A 
YouGov poll of 4,000 people carried out for 
Shelter showed that 27 percent of those polled 
had to cut back on gas and electricity bills to 
be able to pay for rent or mortgage costs. A 
total of 57 percent of adults, and 64 percent of 
families with children were struggling to pay their rent or mortgage last year.

Shelter have gone on to report that one in three 
people would not be able to pay their rent or 
mortgage for a month if they lost their job, with 
35 percent of those polled­equivalent to 8.6 
million people­saying they could not pay the rent 
or mortgage from their savings for a month. Some 
18 percent of people polled­4.4 million 
people­would not be able to pay the rent or 
mortgage at all if they didn’t secure a new job immediately.

The financial precipice facing an increasing 
number of people each month is clear, with 3.9 
million British families just one pay cheque away 
from the threat of losing their homes.

The enormous pressure this is placing on local 
authorities in trying to meet housing demand from 
ever greater numbers of people has brought things 
to breaking point. There has been a sharp rise in 
the numbers of people who have lost their homes 
who were tenants with Assured Short-hold tenancies (AST).

These tenancies are predominantly in the private 
rented sector, whereby the tenant has far less 
housing rights. It is estimated that over a fifth 
(21 percent) of people showing up at local 
authorities requesting assistance for rehousing 
were tenants who had lost their AST homes. This 
is compared to 14 percent of statutory 
homelessness cases two years ago who had lost an 
AST. The increase is being attributed to the 
recession, unemployment, stagnant wages and an increase in private rents.

Rising private rents are pushing up the numbers 
of working people having to claim top up housing 
benefit to be able to cover the payment. But 
housing benefit payments are also being cut. 
Renting a property is now considered more 
expensive than paying a mortgage across all 
regions of England, with the average renter 
paying an extra £75 more a month than people with 
a mortgage. Rents rose in 83 percent of areas 
across the country last year, with the average rent rising by £300.

A shortage of affordable homes, however, has left 
ever more people with no choice but to rent, 
leading to greater pressure of demand on the 
rental market and driving up costs.

The introduction of the bedroom tax­a penalty on 
unoccupied rooms for those on benefits in local 
authority and housing association 
accommodation­and the resulting debts incurred is 
threatening a further rise in homelessness. 
Housing benefit has been cut by 14 percent for 
people deemed to have one extra bedroom and by 25 
percent for those with two extra bedrooms.

A survey by Scotland’s council umbrella body 
Cosla conducted 100 days after the introduction 
of the tax found social housing ren arrears 
increased to £2 million during April 
alone­covering just 8.4 percent of the UK 
population. Three-quarters of the councils 
reported rises in rent arrears, with four out of 
five councils collecting 50 percent or less in 
rent due from tenants affected by the cut and 
three in five collecting 40 percent or less. 
Requests for discretionary housing payments for 
those struggling to pay rent stood at over 22,000 
by the end of May­over four times the number 
received in the same two-month period last year.

Further cuts to the welfare budget are to be 
implemented following the government’s spending 
review. Campbell Robb from Shelter commented, 
“Millions are living on the edge of a crisis, 
only secure in their homes for a matter of weeks. 
At the same time, support for people who have 
lost their homes is being stripped away. It’s 
easy to see why every fifteen minutes, another 
family in England finds themselves homeless.”
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