I don’t know what the winter’s going to bring: experiences of homelessness during a cost of living crisis
As the cost of living soared in Britain in 2022, Crisis wanted to assess what impact this was having on homelessness and housing insecurity: firstly, to understand if and how it was driving people into homelessness, and secondly, to explore how it affected people’s experiences of homelessness. To do this, we interviewed 40 people who had been at risk of or experienced homelessness during 2022, and conducted an online survey with 2,000 people, who were nationally representative of households on the lowest incomes in Great Britain. You can read a blog about the research findings here.
There are households across Britain being forced to choose between heating and eating – but there is also a hidden housing crisis where the cost of rents consume more and more of people’s incomes. Low-income households are disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis and, since the pandemic, rents in Great Britain have been steadily climbing to unaffordable levels.
Against this backdrop, Crisis' research found that:
- Unaffordable and precarious housing were key drivers of interviewees' homelessness. People talked about becoming homeless after receiving no-fault eviction notices or being subjected to high rent increases. This reflects recent evidence that there are more people being evicted and facing homelessness from the private rented sector than there were before the pandemic.
- For people facing homelessness, outgoings were increasing at a higher rate than their income. This meant some people could no longer afford their current rent payments, and for others it became harder to navigate the pressures of living in poverty or insecure housing. It was common for interviewees to talk about sacrifices like skipping meals or avoiding turning on their heating, and that they would prioritise rent payments above these to try and avoid losing their home or accommodation.
- These pressures were being felt more widely by households on low incomes. Over two-thirds of survey respondents (71%) said their overall household spending had increased in the past 12 months, despite less than one third (29%) saying their overall household income had increased over the same period of time. Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) also described having skipped meals in the past 12 months to save money.
- Our survey estimates that nearly a million low income households (943,000 households, or 9% of survey respondents) were expecting to face eviction in the coming winter. Even more households (29% - over 3 million households) said it was likely they would skip meals to keep up with housing payments this winter; families were more likely than others to say this (at 43%).
- As well as being a key driver of homelessness, a lack of affordable housing was also a key barrier to people's moving out of homelessness. Rents for a new home in the private rented sector were often out of reach and not covered by housing benefit, and people couldn't afford the upfront money needed to pay for a deposit and rent in advance. Long social housing waiting lists and other issues accessing homelessness support meant that many people faced a lack of options, leaving some people forced to sofa surf or sleep rough and others having to stay in temporary accommodation, and usually expecting to be there for years.
- The cost of living crisis had unique and sometimes disproportionately harsh impacts on people facing homelessness. People paying for gas and electricity were often pre-paying, which was more expensive and left them at risk of living without heating if they ran out of money. Many people in temporary accommodation paid more for their food because of poor facilities, as well as leaving some exposed to higher travel, laundry and storage costs.
- Reflecting other research highlighting structural inequality and discrimination, people from Black, Asian and other minoritised ethnic groups were around twice as likely (16%) as people identifying as White (7%) to say they were expecting to face eviction this winter. People with past experience of homelessness were two and half times more likely (24%) than others to say this, pointing to a worrying trend that people with past experience of homelessness may be at heightened risk of becoming homeless again.
- In the interviews, we also met people facing homelessness with disabilities whose health and living situation meant they faced increased food and travel costs, and we heard from people who struggled with not being able to receive any income from work or benefits to help them navigate the cost of living, due to conditions attached to their immigration status.
- As well as avoiding heating or eating, people described making other sacrifices to try and survive or avoid homelessness. This included people selling treasured belongings, such as a wedding ring, just to get through the next month. It was particularly troubling to hear people who were in accommodation say they were spending a lot of time alone in their home, because the cost of travelling to see other people, and/or spending money on food or drink with them, was too high. This had the devastating consequence that some people said they couldn’t spend time with their children.
Allard, M. (2022) "I don't know what the winter's going to bring:" experiences of homelessness during a cost of living crisis. London: Crisis