It’s going to be a Dickensian Christmas for 280,000 homeless people

SHELTER has revealed there’s little festive cheer in store for 280,000 homeless people facing up to a bleak Christmas, but just to add to the Dickensian spirit, thousands more are at risk of joining them.

The charity has published its latest annual report on the state of the nation: This is England: a picture of homelessness in 2019, which it claims identifies the locations around the country where homelessness is most acute.

The 280,000 people recorded as homeless this year represents an increase of 23,000 since it first began publishing these annual reports in 2016.

Unsurprisingly, London comes out worst with one in 52 now homeless, but here in the North, Manchester continues to feel the “full forces of the housing emergency” with one in 102 people homeless.

The report presents what Shelter says is an extensive analysis of official rough-sleeping and temporary accommodation figures, along with social services records. All told, this is said to show that in one in every 200 people are without a home.

What’s more, for the first time, the charity says its review of government data has also exposed that close to 220,000 people in England were threatened with homelessness in the last year.

However, Shelter warns that a lot of homelessness “goes undocumented”, including sofa surfing and some rough sleeping, meaning the true level of homelessness is likely even higher its research shows.

On the back of this report, Shelter has warned that unless Boris johnson’s new government takes urgent action to address the “dire” lack of social homes, which it says is at the crux of this emergency, then the situation is likely to get worse.

“Homelessness blights lives and leaves a lasting imprint of trauma, and yet 280,000 people in England are without a home this Christmas. And many are only days away from joining them,” said Polly Neate, Shelter’s chief executive.

“As well as those facing serious ill-health or even death sleeping rough on our streets this winter, there are thousands of families trapped in grotty emergency B&Bs, with no space for children to sit and eat, let alone play. This is the grim truth our new Government must confront and do something radical to change.

“Until the Government acts to stem this crisis, the work of our frontline advisers remains critical. With the public’s support we will do everything we can to help people find a safe and stable place to live – no matter how long it takes.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has released the latest official statistics for statutory homelessness, covering the April to June quarter 2019. Highlights of the release include:

  • The number of households assessed by local authorities as either homeless or threatened with homelessness increased by 11.4% from April to June 2018 to 68,170 this quarter
  • Approximately two-thirds (65.2% or 44,480) of households owed a prevention or relief duty were single households (households without children)
  • 30,670 households, or 45%, were identified as having one or more support needs. The most common support need was a history of mental health problems, accounting for 14,950 households or 21.9% of households owed a duty
  • In April to June 2019, 33,450 households secured accommodation for six months or more because of new prevention or relief duties
  • On 30 June 2019, the total number of households in temporary accommodation was 86,130, up 4.5% from 82,390 a year earlier on 30 June 2018.
  • The number of households in temporary accommodation has been generally rising since 2010, but the number of households with children is more stable, at 61,800 on 30th June 2019, compared with 61,570 on the same date last year
  • 61,800 households or 71.8% included dependent children, with a total of 127,370 dependent children living in temporary accommodation
  • 7,110 households in temporary accommodation were living in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation, up 3.2% from 6,890 at the same time last year. Of these, 1,990 (28.0%) had dependent children or expected children, of which 690 had been resident for more than the statutory six-week limit. This is down 19.8% from 860 on 30 June 2018

Responding to the latest official figures, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesman, Councillor David Renard, said: “Behind every instance of homelessness lies an individual tragedy and councils want to work with the new government to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place and support those affected.

“The new government can help to address this by adapting welfare reforms to protect families at risk of becoming homeless, by restoring Local Housing Allowance rates to cover at least the lowest third of market rents when the current freeze ends in 2020.

“It should also give councils the powers and funding to build desperately needed affordable new homes. This should include urgent reform to the Right to Buy scheme, which enables councils to keep all sales receipts and set discounts locally.”

The charity Crisis, meanwhile, has expressed concern at what it says is a sharp rise in the last 12 months of households owed a duty to end or prevent their homelessness where someone has physical ill-health or a disability. This has risen by 14%, but there has been a 53% rise in councils being unable to discharge that duty to such households under the Homelessness Reduction Act, meaning they are classes as in a priority need for housing.

“Being without a safe and secure home, or being at risk of losing your home, is devastating,” said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis. “Under the Homelessness Reduction Act, duties are owed to help people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness – this steep increase shows not only the scale of people requiring help, but the challenges that people already face, on top of having no place to call home.

“We need to see Government take action. The HRA is intended as a tool to prevent people from becoming homeless. But councils have to be given the resources and ability to exercise this to its full potential and we need to see transformative measures taken, such as restoring housing benefit levels to cover the true cost of rent and an increase in social housing being built, or we risk seeing these numbers to continue to rise.”

But in a twist to the tale, an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has claimed that some vulnerable people are being assessed as medically fit by a private company, despite not being seen face to face, and therefore deemed not to be in priority need of their council’s support.



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