Families across England are having to cut back on food because current housing benefit levels do not cover their full housing costs, according to new research from a leading homelessness charity.
The homelessness charity Crisis is calling on the government to increase the value of housing benefit to tackle the growing homelessness epidemic, as research shows that thousands of households are sacrifing food shopping in order to pay rent.
The data shows there are huge swathes of England where the housing benefit shortfall equates to at least a quarter of the national average weekly food shop (£59) for a small family (two adults and two children).
In a city such as Leicester, the average weekly rent of the cheapest third of two-bedroom properties is £124.27 compared to the average housing benefit of £109.32, leaving a shortfall of £14.95.
Crisis says this equates to a small family having to give up a quarter (25%) of their grocery bill so that they can cover the shortfall between their housing benefit and rent.
According to the research by Crisis, Londoners are hit the hardest where even foregoing the week’s entire grocery shop is still not enough to make up the difference.
In outer East London, the average weekly rent for a two-bedroom property is £299.18 compared to housing benefit entitlement of £243.56, leaving a shortfall of £55.62, the equivalent of 94% of the total food bill.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive at Crisis, said: “A safe and stable home is fundamental to our dignity and humanity. But every day, we hear of people becoming homeless or being pushed to the brink of losing the roof over their heads because of the constant pressure of trying to cover the cost of their rent.
“Paying the rent means families have no option but to make huge sacrifices on other basic necessities. We cannot let this continue.
“Housing benefit is an important tool and could be the quickest and most effective way to prevent homelessness, but due to years of cuts and freezes it simply does not cover people’s rent.
“With the right policies and investment, we can end homelessness. We urge the new Government to act now and invest in housing benefit.”