Homelessness is much worse than official figures show, according to the latest research from Crisis and JRF. A deepening crisis can be avoided – but we need a commitment to long-term, secure accommodation at prices that those on the lowest incomes can afford.
The annual Crisis/JRF Homelessness Monitor: England state-of-the-nation report found that the number of people facing homelessness rose by nine per cent last year, with half of all councils fearing worse is yet to come. That trend is not shown in the official statistics, which nearly two-thirds of councils think no longer reflect homelessness in their area.
Why the difference? It is because councils are increasingly turning to ‘informal’ approaches to homelessness that are recorded separately from the main homelessness figures. So you might be referred for financial assistance and debt advice, assistance to stay in a tenancy or family mediation. You are still in a desperate situation, and your council might be doing what they can to help you – but you do not show up in the main homelessness figures.
What is great about the Homelessness Monitor is that it draws on a survey of councils, combined with new statistical analysis and in-depth interviews to give the whole picture of those approaching councils for help to find or prevent the imminent loss of a home.
However, the whole picture is not a pretty one. We have found a rapid escalation in the number of people struggling to keep a roof over their heads, and ending up in this ‘informal’ no-man’s land. For example, in 2013-14 debt advice and financial assistance cases were up 47 per cent compared to the previous year.
Those working for councils on the frontline say that rising numbers face the loss of their home at a time when services are facing funding decreases. Rising use of benefits sanctions are viewed as a significant driver of homelessness, especially among young people.
Overall, 90 per cent of councils think benefit cuts will continue to impact on homelessness, with 53 per cent fearing worse is to come in the next two years. Homelessness Monitor found 280,000 cases of people facing homelessness last year. For JRF this demonstrates the need for a commitment to long-term, secure accommodation at prices that those on the lowest incomes can afford, and a long-term approach to reducing poverty. We know from our evidence that a big increase in housing supply is essential just to contain poverty at current levels, but that this alone is not sufficient. Strategic action on the part of all those involved in meeting housing need is now required, to ensure that we can make all sectors of the market work for people on low incomes. The forthcoming general election presents an opportunity for all parties to lay their plans on the table – let’s hope they take it.
Brian Robson is policy and research manager at JRF
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