One of the big success stories of the recession thus far has been the resilience of the housing sector to increases in homeless households. Up to this point, far fewer people have been made homeless than in the last major recession, back in the early 1990s. Recent statistics show an alarming rate of increase, however, and some believe that this will only worsen in the coming months.
Newly released Government figures show that 26,400 people approached a local council for housing help in the first three months of 2011, constituting a rise of 23% on the same period of last year. Some areas showed even higher increases, with locations like Bromley, Fulham, Islington and Haringey showing 99%, 92%, 88% and 83% escalations respectively.
Perhaps most worryingly, over half of applicants were reputedly unsuccessful in the same three month period, leading to growing concerns for numerous ‘hidden homeless’ – those forced to squat or sleep on friends’ sofas. In order to compensate, the number of people actually approved by the councils increased by a full 10% year-on-year in 2011, the first such rise for seven years, putting deeper into perspective the sheer numbers of households in need of help.
Although relationship breakdown and rejection by family or friends remained the greatest contributors, rent arrears and mortgage defaults climbed significantly, reflecting the difficult economic times still facing much of the British society.
The housing minister, Grant Shapps, is reported to have conceded that the figures underline “how the recession has brought difficult times for lots of people”. But he insisted that homelessness remained a government priority and urged people at risk of losing their homes to contact a Citizens Advice bureau.
That came recently after Westminster Council tabled, and then retracted, ideas to ban rough sleeping in certain areas, plans that were widely criticised for potentially criminalising the homeless and that seem to represent a not wholly coherent policy structure within conservative led councils, regardless of Shapps’ above statement.
A new bill, “The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill”, was introduced to the commons on 22nd June this year. This will enable homeless persons to be included as one of the list of fundable civil legal services (clause 8), despite the government cutbacks in this area. As such, anyone who is homeless, or threatened with homelessness, may be provided legal services in relation to the provision of accommodation so long as they ‘qualify’ (subject to means testing and other ‘merits’ criteria to be set out in regulations (clause 10)). Slow progress is therefore being made.
If you know anyone who needs help and advice concerning the issues raised in this article, we strongly suggest that you recommend that they visit the link below and seek help as soon as they can. http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/
15th June 2011