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Why the UK Government must increase housing benefit

Calum McGregor, Senior Digital Campaigns Officer

All of us should have a safe, decent home we can afford. But the cost of living crisis, lack of affordable housing and inexplicable government freeze on housing benefit is pushing this out of reach for more and more people.

We're all familiar with the escalating cost of living. Rents are at record highs, energy bills are double what they were last winter and food price inflation is the highest it has been in decades.

This crisis is affecting us all, but people who have been living with the pressures of poverty or disadvantage for years are the least able to absorb additional costs. Many are being pushed to the brink and into homelessness. This is unacceptable.

There is an immediate and effective way the UK Government could relieve this pressure on people on low incomes: increase housing benefit so it covers the true cost of rent.

An important lifeline is being eroded

Local Housing Allowance, also known as housing benefit, is meant to be a lifeline to people facing the threat of homelessness by helping them pay their rent. It has helped millions keep the vital foundation of a safe, decent home. But the value of this lifeline is being eroded.

At the start of the pandemic, following campaigning from Crisis and other organisations in the homelessness sector, housing benefit was raised to cover the cheapest third of rents in an area.

Since 2020, rents have risen rapidly in many parts of the country. But housing benefit has remained frozen. It’s no longer adequate to protect people from losing their home. This means more and more people now have a shortfall to pay or are unable to find a home to rent that they can afford.

Frontline workers in our services are finding it increasingly difficult to find a home for people experiencing homelessness that they can afford.

Maintaining the housing benefit freeze in the face of rising rents and a cost of living crisis is pushing people into homelessness. The UK Government must change tack.

Forced to go without essentials

The growing gap between housing benefit and the cheapest rents is leaving people with a shortfall of over £950 a year on average for one-bed properties and even more for two and three beds – over £1,500 and £2,300 respectively. If your budget is already squeezed by rising energy bills and other pressures, this shortfall becomes impossible to manage.

This can have devastating consequences and increases the financial pressure on those already struggling to make ends meet. As part of our cost of living research we interviewed 40 people who had experienced or been at risk of homelessness in 2022. The reality of the impact the cost of living crisis is having on people across the country is sobering.

People have told us they no longer ‘have a budget for food’ or they’re ‘extremely anxious’ about affording their rent. Many people are making sacrifices such as skipping meals or avoiding turning on their heating and told us that they would prioritise rent payments above food or energy in order to try and avoid losing their home or accommodation.

One interviewee was forced to sell their wedding ring just to get through the next month

The consequences of inaction

The huge shortage of affordable housing across many areas in Britain means that levels of the worst forms of homelessness were already high before the cost of living crisis.

Whilst there was some success during the pandemic to prevent homelessness getting worse, we are seeing rough sleeping going up again in England. The latest figures show a 21% increase in rough sleeping in London.

Without action from the UK Government, more and more people will be pushed to the brink and into homelessness. Our research in December found that nearly one million low-income households feared eviction in the coming months.

But it doesn’t have to be this way

The UK Government could relieve the pressure on those on the lowest incomes right now by raising housing benefit in the upcoming Spring Budget, so it covers the true cost of rent.

This would have an immediate impact on preventing and ending homelessness. That’s why we are calling for the UK Government to act now.

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is making decisions right now about what support the UK Government can offer people to help them weather the cost of living crisis.

Investing in housing benefit would provide a lifeline to millions of people and stop more people being forced into homelessness.

Take action

Call on your MP today to ask the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to increase housing benefit to stop more people being forced into homelessness during the cost of living crisis.

Email your MP

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