Solutions to end homelessness are in our grasp. But we need the UK Government to continue the work it started at the beginning of the pandemic in this week’s Spending Review
On Wednesday 25th November 2020, the Chancellor of Exchequer Rishi Sunak will hold his first Spending Review outlining the UK Government’s budget for the year ahead. Government spending reviews typically provide a multi-year forecast for Government expenditure. But this year will look very different. In response to the pandemic, the Chancellor will outline spending priorities for one year only. However, this still means that the UK Government has a unique opportunity to build on the progress made on homelessness during the pandemic, and invest to ensure people at the brink of, or experiencing homelessness can leave homelessness behind for good.
In its response to the Covid-19 crisis, the UK Government has come closer to achieving its commitment to ending rough sleeping in England than it ever has before through the Everyone In initiative. Significant measures were put in place to support people to keep their homes due to the financial impact of coronavirus for those who lost work, or whose financial struggles were exacerbated, including through the ban on evictions. One of the most impactful changes was the restoration of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates to the cover the cheapest third of rents (30th percentile) until March next year. Through our frontline services and work with local organisations, Crisis UK has seen how this not only offered a lifeline to families under financial strain to be able to pay their rent, but it also meant that we have been able to support people into secure tenancies and out of homelessness.
With a coronavirus vaccine on the horizon, we are all hoping the end of the pandemic is within sight. But we are not out of the woods yet, and thousands of people still need support to cover their rent and keep up with the cost of food and bills in the months ahead. Many will need long term support to ensure they are not trapped in poverty or even at risk of homelessness. In this week’s Spending Review, it is therefore critical that the Chancellor publicly supports families to keep their homes by maintaining LHA rates at the 30th percentile beyond March to ensure that those who need it most are able to afford rent in their local area. As the pandemic hits people’s incomes, this change will help many to remain securely in their home. But rates need to stay tied to local market rents in the years ahead to give tenants and landlords the security to agree tenancies at affordable rates.
More than ever, the coronavirus has exposed how important it is that we all have a place to call home. That means we must have an effective welfare system that enables people to get back on their feet when they need it. Maintaining LHA rates will do this for thousands, but for some, this support won’t be enough because they will be hit by the benefit cap, limiting the financial support they receive. And as part of a long-term strategy, an investment in social housing remains vital in order to provide low-cost stable housing that many people need to move out of homelessness for good.
In our work with local authorities, we’ve seen that the benefit cap is leaving people in temporary or emergency accommodation, living in limbo, and unable to move into a safe home of their own. We have seen from working with people facing homelessness up and down the country that living in temporary accommodation must only ever be the first step in ending homelessness, and that securing a stable home has a huge positive impact on people’s lives. But in order to make this a reality and ensure that people can truly leave homelessness behind for good, we need to ensure people who have slept rough and those in emergency accommodation can afford a safe home of their own.
That’s why we are calling on the Chancellor to permanently exempt people who have slept rough or spent three months in a homeless hostel or other forms of emergency accommodation from the benefit cap, so they can leave homelessness behind for good. Not only could this save lives and help people can get back on their feet, but it will also help the Government achieve its commitment to end rough sleeping in England by 2024.
We know that this year’s Spending Review offers a unique opportunity to provide both short and long-term solutions to ending homelessness for good. The Government has already acknowledged that the best approach in doing this is to support people into a stable home as soon as possible and provide people with individually tailored support to help them to stay there. Known as ‘Housing First’, it is evident that this approach will be essential in meeting the complex and urgent needs of many people facing homelessness. The success of the Housing First scheme in the West Midlands is “clear for all to see”, said Mayor Andy Street who was right to say that now is the time for the UK Government to commit to rolling it out. This vital intervention needs funding so that it can finally be implemented across the country.
We have seen that extraordinary efforts result in people off the streets. And we know that with the right decisions and investment, such successes can lay the foundations for ending homelessness for good. We hope the UK Government seizes this opportunity, learns from this year’s lessons and plans long term solutions that end homelessness in the UK.
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