‘UK Government failing Britain’s poorest households,’ Crisis warns
- Nearly one million low-income households fear eviction in the coming months
- Four in 10 low-income families will need to skip meals to pay for their housing this winter
- One person told Crisis about their heartbreaking decision to pawn their wedding ring to get money to survive another month
- Crisis urges UK Government to urgently commit to increasing housing benefit so it covers the true cost of rents
UK Government policy has fallen woefully short of what is needed to protect low-income households from the impact of the cost of living emergency, homelessness charity Crisis has warned following new research showing the damage being done to the lives of millions across Britain.
The stark findings are from a survey of 2,000 low-income households in Britain, led by Crisis and carried out by Opinium, alongside a series of in-depth interviews with people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
The study provides a snapshot of the devastating impact of unaffordable housing costs, rising rents and skyrocketing inflation on low-income households and people facing homelessness as the cost of living intensifies. Of those surveyed, nearly 1 in 10 (9%) said it is likely they will face eviction this winter. This is equivalent to nearly one million (943,000) low-income households across Britain.* This increases to 15% among private renters and 24% among people with past experience of homelessness.
As well as the findings on evictions, the survey revealed:
- Over three million households said it’s likely they will need to skip meals to keep up with their housing costs this winter (equates to 3,039,000 households, or 29% of respondents). Among low-income families, 4 in 10 (43%) will need to skip meals
- Over three million households were behind on payments for one or more of their outgoings (3,144,000 households, or 30% of respondents)
- Almost four million households said it’s likely they will not be able to heat their home this winter (3,877,000 households, or 37% of respondents)
The findings come at a time when rents in Britain are rising at their fastest annual rate for 16 years and record numbers of people in England are facing homelessness because landlords are re-letting or selling their properties. These factors, alongside a chronically unfilled gap between social housing need and social housing supply mean there is a woeful shortage of housing for people on low incomes.
Releasing the report, Crisis warned that without urgent action, Britain faces the very real prospect of a huge spike in homelessness as pressure piles on households. Of the three million households behind on payments for one or more of their outgoings, 16% of people who pay rent or mortgages were behind on payments for these. Among those in rent arrears, 54% were over a month behind on rent, and 27% were two months or more behind.
Other key findings from the survey also paint a bleak picture. They include:
- Over two thirds (71%) said their overall household spending had increased in the past twelve months, despite less than one third (29%) saying their overall household income had increased in the same period
- Over half (58%) said it was likely their housing costs would be higher than they’ve ever been this winter
- More than 1 in 4 (27%) said they worry most days about how to cover housing costs. This rises to 4 in 10 (42%) among families
- When asked if they felt confident they would have somewhere else to live if they lost their home, just over half (52%) said they did not
- The findings were generally worst for people with past experience of homelessness, showing many may be at risk of returning to homelessness. Nearly 1 in 4 (24%) said they were likely to face eviction this winter, and nearly half (47%) said they would likely skip meals to keep up with housing costs.
People facing homelessness have long struggled with the daily cost of living caused by unaffordable housing and rising costs, but the study showed the current crisis is reaching more people and forcing those on the lowest incomes into dire living situations, unable to make ends meet as their income decreases and costs rise.
In the in-depth research interviews conducted by Crisis, people spoke about the stress they are under. One person was pushed into homelessness when their rent shot up by nearly 40% when it was time to renew their tenancy. They said: “I was in a situation where I wasn’t even earning enough money to be able to pay for the rent that I had currently for two years been paying, which was £870 a month, plus all of the other bills. And then of course when [the landlord] came back to me he said, ‘I put it up to £1200 because that is the going rate,’ and I just thought I have no hope in hell of being able to find that extra money, because it was hand to mouth pretty much all the time.”
A man using a wheelchair due to a spinal injury was facing eviction from a private landlord because of rent arrears. He said he was living ‘from food bank to food bank’: “It’s one of the hardest things that I've ever had to do, spreading so little amount of money out over the monthly period to just survive, just on groceries, bills, and it’s sort of living day-to-day and then it’s like utility bills as well, and there is no room for a treat of any sort, it’s diabolical, it is really, really hard.”
One woman shared the heartbreaking decision she made to pawn her wedding ring to try and make it through another month. “I had had that ring on most of my life, and then to have to be in a situation where you’ve got to sell probably one of your last treasures, and it’s like you’ve just got to do it. So, I pawned it… that month I thought great, I'm able to buy a bit of food and maybe pay an extra bill or put some more petrol in the car, but you can’t keep doing that because I don’t have any more jewellery.”
And the unaffordable living costs are having a damaging impact on people’s wellbeing. Even in situations where they had family or friends to rely on for support, people shared how the current crisis made it impossible for them to travel, leaving them alone and isolated.
“I can’t believe sometimes that I have to say no to meeting friends and family because I can’t afford the petrol to go over to the friend or family member to have a meal, because I'm thinking if I use the petrol to go over to visit them, although you know you will benefit from a nutritious meal and a chat and it will be lovely because you’ve got comfort, you are then thinking no, I can’t do that, because I do need that £10 of petrol money to get to work the next day. You know, to be in a situation where you’re having to choose from comfort or necessity and petrol to be able to do that bit of travelling, to earn your wages, it is a real sorry state of affairs.”
Matt Downie, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “As we approach Christmas, the outlook across Britain is extremely bleak. People are being forced out of their homes because of unaffordable housing costs. They’re enduring freezing conditions, going without food and unable to visit family because their budgets simply don’t stretch that far.
“The uncertainty of not knowing whether you will still have your home in another week or month is hugely damaging to people’s health and wellbeing. We’ve heard about the loneliness and sacrifices people are forced to make to try and keep a roof over their head, like pawning treasured possessions. This is the cruel reality for thousands, and it must change.
“Everyone should have a safe and settled home, but the UK Government is failing Britain’s poorest households. Despite some positive action on homelessness in recent years, it is nowhere near enough amid rising evictions and more and more people needing help with cost of living. The tide must turn if we are to prevent homelessness, but this can only happen if the genuinely affordable homes we desperately need are built and the UK Government invests in housing benefit to cover the true cost of rent.
“This Christmas, Crisis will once again be supporting people experiencing homelessness across Britain, providing accommodation, hot food and companionship as well as introducing them to our year-round support services. For many, this is their first step towards ending their homelessness for good.”
Over Christmas, Crisis will provide support services at three hotels and four day centres in London, plus Crisis Skylight centres around Britain. The charity is calling on the public to donate what they can afford this Christmas, to help end someone’s homelessness. Visit crisis.org.uk/support for more information.
* Scotland has a temporary ban on evictions in place until end of March 2023