New Government figures reveal homelessness rising, as research predicts
8 September 2011
Government figures report another rise in homelessness today as new research published by homelessness charity Crisis warns that the situation is set to get worse.
The Homelessness Monitor: Tracking the Impacts of Policy and Economic Change in England, commissioned by Crisis and undertaken by Heriot-Watt University and the University of York, warns that after years of stable or falling levels of homelessness, 2010 marked the turning point when homelessness in all its forms started to rise again.
The research predicts that the worst is yet to come as the continuing economic downturn combined with the Coalition Government's radical reforms and weakening of the welfare state will leave many more people facing the threat or reality of homelessness.
The new statutory homelessness figures released today by the Department of Communities and Local Government show that the number of homeless households owed an accommodation duty by their local authority ("acceptances") is up by 17% on the same quarter last year, to 11,820. This is from a total of 25,890 local authority homelessness assessment decisions - a 14% rise over the same period.
These statistics are also the first since the Government cut Local Housing Allowance (Housing Benefit) for new claimants in April and shockingly, the figures show a 46% rise on the same period last year in the number of people being accepted as homeless as a result of their tenancy in the private rented sector ending.
Leslie Morphy, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: "Today's official figures prove once again we now face a sustained increase in homelessness but, worryingly, this research predicts the worst is yet to come.
"The Coalition Government is dismantling the buffers against poverty and unemployment that have traditionally kept a roof over vulnerable households' heads. Homelessness is rising and we fear cuts to housing benefit and housing budgets, alongside reforms in the Welfare Reform and Localism Bills will cause it to increase yet further. We need the Government to change course now or risk returning us to the days of countless lives facing the debilitating effects of homelessness."
Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, of the Institute for Housing, Urban and Real Estate Research, Heriot-Watt University, who led the research, said: "International evidence indicates that strong welfare and housing systems are vital in mitigating the impact of difficult economic circumstances on people vulnerable to homelessness. So the Government's reforms in combination with the pressures of the economic downturn seem certain to increase all forms of homelessness, from rough sleepers on our streets to homeless people hidden out of sight."
The research found that pressure is building from all sides on vulnerable households. The economic downturn and rising unemployment will have a lagged but crucial impact through the strain placed on families and relationships - relationship breakdown is a major driver of homelessness. At the same time, housing market pressures are squeezing out many low-income households, with highly constrained access to home ownership for first-time buyers increasing demands on the rental sectors, but levels of lettings available in the social rented sector are much lower than in the past.
The research highlights how the Coalition's reforms, particularly a range of cuts to housing benefit and changes to housing policy, will weaken protection that has until now usually broken the link between unemployment, poverty and homelessness. They are also restricting access to the private rented sector for low income households. On top of this the Government has halved investment in building new social housing stock and other research suggests that its revised framework will fail to deliver the number of new homes Ministers predict.
Key points from the research:
- Homelessness is on the rise. 3,975 people slept rough in London during 2010/11, an increase of 8 per cent on the previous year. After a major decline from 2003-2009, the number of people approaching their local authority as homeless rose by 15% during the 2010/11 financial year to 102,200 households, and the headline measure of acceptances increased by 10% to 44,160.
- Hidden homelessness is also increasing. Having been in decline, there were an estimated 1.39 million concealed single person households and 315,000 concealed couples and single parents (2008 figures). There has also been a sharp drop in new household formation, reflecting the drastically reduced number of new households entering home ownership plus the fall in the numbers of social lettings. And the number of sharing households has increased in the last two years, after a long-term decline reflecting constrained access to housing following the credit crunch. Overcrowding has also increased markedly, from 2.4% or all households in 2003 to 2.9% of all households - 630,000 - reversing previous declining trends.
- Whilst the last major housing market recession reduced homelessness because it eased affordability in the owner occupied sector - which in turn freed up social and private lets - this is less likely with the current recession. This time available lettings in the social rented sector are much lower and the continuing constraints on mortgage availability are increasing demand. The private rented sector has become increasingly important as both a solution to homelessness and potentially also a cause of homelessness.
- The impact of the economic downturn and rising unemployment on homelessness is likely to be lagged with much depending on the strength of the welfare safety net that provides a "buffer" between a loss of income, or a persistently low income, and homelessness. Yet the Government's welfare reforms will weaken that safety net and so therefore seem certain to drive homelessness up in England over the next few years.
- The three key housing policy instruments that historically have constituted this "buffer" in the UK are under attack. First and most problematic is the range of cuts to housing benefit. Second the national framework for social housing is being replaced with less secure tenancies on closer to market rents with access to waiting lists now determined by local priorities. Third, the statutory homelessness system which has protected families may in some cases now only provide temporary help of a year's tenancy in a private flat, meanwhile most single people remain outwith the statutory safety net.
- By the end of the 1997 - 2010 Labour Government's period in office much had been achieved on homelessness that was worth preserving, although significant problems remained. Most of these ‘gains' were based on centrally-driven policies and centrally-policed national minimum standards.
- The Coalition Government's shift away from national minimum standards and policy frameworks in favour of the local determination of priorities is unlikely to benefit marginalised groups such as single homeless people. The Government's Ministerial Working Group on homelessness may help to reduce rough sleeping but the lifting of the Supporting People ring fence and national budget cuts has impacted on the front-line services available to homeless people, with the prospect of more significant cuts to come. In addition a range of other aspects of the Government's reform agenda - including abolition of the EMA and legal aid reform - may also impact negatively on some specific groups vulnerable to homelessness.
The report concludes that next two years will be a crucial time period over which ‘lagged' impacts of the recession start to materialise, together with some of the effects of welfare and housing reform. The Homelessness Monitor will be tracking these changes with further reports to be published in each of the next two years.
In response to today's figures and the concerns raised in the research Crisis is calling on the Government to:
- Reverse its cuts to housing benefit and to homelessness services and withdraw its proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill to break the link between housing support and actual housing costs in the private rented sector
- Instead of weakening homeless people's rights to housing, the Government should strengthen the housing and welfare safety nets, particularly for single people, and invest substantially in new social housing
- Ensure tackling homelessness in all its forms remains a national priority and is not left to a localism-driven postcode lottery
Notes to editor
For further media information or to request an interview with a Crisis spokesperson, please contact Garry Lemon, Senior Press Officer at Crisis, on 020 7426 3880 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Homelessness Monitor can be found here:
The Homelessness Monitor: Tracking the Impacts of Policy and Economic Change in England is a three-year study that will provide an independent analysis of the impact on homelessness of recent economic and policy developments in England. It is being conducted by Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Professor Hal Pawson and Professor Glen Bramley at Heriot-Watt University, together with Professor Steve Wilcox at the University of York.
The key areas of interest are the homelessness consequences of the post-2007 economic recession and rising unemployment, the housing market downturn, and migration. The other main thrust of inquiry is the likely impacts of the welfare, housing and other social policy reforms, including cutbacks in public expenditure, being pursued by the coalition Government elected in 2010. Four homeless groups are looked at specifically:
- People sleeping rough
- Single homeless people living in hostels, shelters and temporary supported accommodation
- Statutorily homeless households - that is, households who seek housing assistance from local authorities on grounds of their being currently or imminently without accommodation
- ‘Hidden homeless' households - that is, households living in ‘overcrowded' conditions, and also ‘concealed' and ‘sharing' households
Though the research focuses on England, the consequences of the economic downturn and many of the cuts referred to, notably those to housing benefit, are taking place across the UK.
Statutory Homelessness Statistics
National statistics on Statutory Homelessness are released by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on a quarterly basis under arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority. The latest statistics were published on 8th September 2011 and provide figures for the April to June quarter 2011, showing local authorities' activities under the homelessness legislation of the 1996 Housing Act.
The Statistical Release, along with the accompanying set of national and regional tables, and key data at local authority level (in supplementary tables), can be obtained from the DCLG website: http://www.communities.gov.uk/housing/housingresearch/housingstatistics/housingstatisticsby/homelessnessstatistics/publicationshomelessness/
Background on Crisis
Crisis is the national charity for single homeless people. We are dedicated to ending homelessness by delivering life-changing services and campaigning for change. Our innovative education, employment, housing and well-being services address individual needs and help people to transform their lives. We are determined campaigners, working to prevent people from becoming homeless and advocating solutions informed by research and our direct experience. We have ambitious plans for the future and are committed to help more people in more places across the UK. We know we won't end homelessness overnight or on our own. But we take a lead, collaborate with others and, together, make change happen.