A leading charity has blamed “short-sighted welfare cuts and a severe housing shortage” for soaring levels of homelessness in England, after new official figures revealed that the number of homeless households has risen by 33 percent in the last five years.
Official government statistics show the number of families accepted as homeless by councils has increased by 42 percent over the last five years, while the total number of homeless households increased by 33 percent to 56,500 over the same period.
The number of families living in temporary accommodation, such as B&B’s and homeless hostels, has also risen by 14 percent in a year and 103 percent over five years.
Tenants in the private sector have been hit particularly hard, with more than 17,000 private sector tenants made homeless in 2015 due to eviction.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of the homeless charity Shelter, said: “The devastating rise in homelessness revealed by today’s figures provides unquestionable proof this country is once again at the mercy of a housing crisis.
“And as the number of homeless people continues to grow, it’s clear that the modest proposals on rough-sleeping in the Budget are simply inadequate given the scale of this problem, and will not reach the thousands of homeless families hidden away in cramped B&B’s and dingy hostel rooms.
“Over the past fifty years at Shelter we have seen first-hand that reducing homelessness is only possible when a government is truly committed to providing secure and affordable homes, and adequate support should the worst happen.
“But, tragically as we approach our 50th anniversary we are instead facing the catastrophic consequences of short-sighted welfare cuts and a severe housing shortage.
“If we want to break the cycle of homelessness for good, this government has to stop side-stepping the root causes, and urgently prioritise building homes that people on low and ordinary incomes can actually afford to rent long-term or buy.”
Wales, however, appear to be bucking the trend of rising homelessness. A new legal duty requiring councils to help prevent people from becoming homeless, has resulted in the number of households accepted as homeless between October-December 2015 falling by 67 percent on the previous year.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “Homelessness in England is soaring, and today’s figures show a further 6% rise between October and December of 2015.
“We already have a huge task ahead of us, and many of the underlying causes remain: more and more people are struggling to pay their rent in an increasingly insecure market, while cuts to housing benefit and local council funding have left the safety net in tatters.
“Yet if we look across to Wales, we see a very different picture that could show the way forward for England. In 2014 the Welsh Government enacted a new law requiring councils to help prevent people from becoming homeless, and as we can see from today’s figures, they are already having considerable success.
“Where councils intervened to prevent people from becoming homeless, they were successful in two thirds of cases. At the same time, we have seen a drop of 67% in the number of people formally accepted as homeless.
“The law as it stands in England means that single homeless people who go to their councils for help are often turned away to sleep on the streets – cold, desperate and forgotten. It’s a scandal that someone in this situation can be told they’re not vulnerable enough for help.
“Now is the time for action, and the course is very clear. We strongly urge the government to follow through on its commitment to consider options – including legislation – to prevent more people from becoming homeless.
“It is essential that all homeless people can get the help they need and that councils get the necessary funding to deliver on this.”
The statistics also show a 39 percent rise in the number of homeless people with disabilities.
John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, said: “Hard on the heels of the Budget backtrack on disability benefits, this huge rise in homelessness is a further blow to the credibility of David Cameron’s claim to ‘compassionate Conservatism’.
“No One Nation government would accept rapidly rising homelessness and still stick with the policies causing the problem. The Chancellor has backed down on some new disability benefit cuts but these figures expose the harsh impact on disabled people of the cuts he’s already made.
“The homeless figures hide personal stories of hurt and hopelessness; thousands of people whose ordinary lives have fallen apart from illness, debt, family break-up, addiction or redundancy.
“This spiralling scale of homelessness shames us all when Britain is one of the richest countries in the world. The Government’s failure to control housing costs and crude cuts to housing support over the last six years are making the problem much worse. Conservative Ministers have no long-term housing plan for the country.
“These figures are just the tip of the iceberg of the housing crisis but they are a condemnation of Conservative housing policy and the harsh impact it is having on those who are most vulnerable.
“The Chancellor pledged £115 million to help homelessness in the Budget but this is not new money and even if the funds are provided in full it will recover only £1 in every £9 the Chancellor is set to strip from homelessness hostels and other specialist housing in further cuts to housing benefit support announced in the Autumn Statement.
“The Chancellor this week backed off some new disability benefit cuts, and he must now re-think the multi-billion pound cuts to housing and homelessness support which are set to bite during this Parliament.”
Yesterday, the homelessness charity St Mungo’s urged the next Mayor of London to help prevent further rough sleeping in the capital.
New research by the charity identified the three main “tipping points” that result in people sleeping rough: “an end to temporary accommodation with friends or family, being asked to leave the family home, and the threat of eviction from a rented property”.
Howard Sinclair, Chief Executive of St Mungo’s, said: “Opportunities to prevent people ending up on the street are being missed, especially people who don’t meet the ‘priority need’ criteria for housing despite being homeless and are often also very vulnerable.
“The new No First Night Out project is a welcome step in the right direction. Rough sleeping in London is on the rise and it is more urgent than ever that we do more to prevent people ending up in this dangerous and harmful situation.
“Lead London Home is about getting the next Mayor of London to lead the way on tackling homelessness, which is why we are calling on them to expand the No First Night Out Project.
“We look forward to hearing more from the London Mayoral candidates about their commitment to homelessness prevention and hope they will also join our calls for a new law so that no one can be turned away by councils to sleep on the streets.”
A petition calling on the next Mayor to make tackling homelessness in the capital a priority can be found here.