There will be more people sleeping rough on the streets of Croydon tonight than in the city of Birmingham.
Those are part of the shocking statistics revealed by Shelter, the homelessness charity, who have used official government data and Freedom of Information requests to estimate that 307,000 people are sleeping rough, or accommodated in temporary housing, bed and breakfast rooms, or hostels in Britain today – an increase of 13,000 over the past year.
Shelter said the figures were an underestimate as they did not include the “hidden homeless”, people who have nowhere to live but are not recorded as needing housing assistance.
In London overall, one in every 59 people are homeless. Of the top 50 local authority homelessness “hotspots” according to Shelter, 18 are in Greater London, with Newham, where one in 27 residents are homeless, worst hit.
Croydon has a ratio worse than the national average, of 1 in 54; according to Shelter’s figures, there are 68 people sleeping rough in Croydon, which is more than any other London borough with the exception of Westminster. According to a separate survey conducted last year by the charity Croydon Nightwatch and the local council, those figures for rough sleepers in Croydon have doubled since 2014.
Tom Copley, Labour’s housing spokesperson at the London Assembly, told Inside Croydon, “With a fundamental lack of protection for renters, punitive welfare cuts and caps, and a failure from the Government to address the chronic shortage of affordable housing in areas like Croydon, this brutal concoction is leaving too many local people without a proper roof over their heads.
“Estimates from City Hall show that Croydon needs nearly 3,000 new homes each year to meet local demand, but unless the Government is willing to reverse current underinvestment, London’s housing crisis will continue to have a devastating human impact on communities.”
According to the Shelter figures, and based on their ratio of homeless people compared to the population of the authority area as a whole, Croydon is ranked as 16th worst in the country for homelessness. Shelter’s figures show that this borough has more than 7,000 people living in temporary accommodation.
Shelter’s figures suggest that the problem of homelessness has been worsening in outer London boroughs and places which border the capital.
Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s shocking to think that today, more than 300,000 people in Britain are waking up homeless. Some will have spent the night shivering on a cold pavement, others crammed into a dingy hostel room with their children. And what is worse, many are simply unaccounted for.
“On a daily basis, we speak to hundreds of people and families who are desperately trying to escape the devastating trap of homelessness. A trap that is tightening thanks to decades of failure to build enough affordable homes and the impact of welfare cuts.”
Shelter says that the single leading cause of recorded homelessness is the ending of a private tenancy, accounting for three in every 10 cases, and often triggered by a combination of soaring rents and housing benefit cuts.
The Tory Government’s Homelessness Reduction Act comes into force next year. This requires local authorities to take steps to prevent households at risk of homelessness tipping into crisis. But local authorities, including Croydon, are concerned that funding for their new duties is insufficient, at a time when pressures caused by housing shortages, rising rents and benefit cuts are increasing pressure on their housing departments.
Croydon Council recently revealed that it had spent £3million last year in paying rents for private tenants who had gone into arrears because of changes to the benefits system, to avoid them being rendered homeless and therefore becoming the council’s responsibility.
Shelter says that more than 1 million households are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020. Rising numbers of families on low incomes are struggling to pay even the lowest available private sector rents in many areas, leading to ever higher levels of eviction and homelessness.
When he was housing minister, Gavin Barwell, the former Conservative MP for Croydon Central, tried to claim that his Government was reducing homelessness. That was a lie.
A National Audit Office inquiry in September criticised the Government for failing to get a grip on homelessness, with numbers rising every year since 2010, when the Tories came into government.
Today, Copley said, “The National Audit Office warned that government welfare policies are directly contributing to the homelessness crisis. These appalling figures show that the Government has wilfully turned its back on those who’ve had the misfortune to find themselves homeless.
“Right now we’ve got a Prime Minister who has prioritised pumping £10billion into Help to Buy, inflating house prices in the process, rather than committing the funding to build hundreds of thousands of much-needed social houses. The need to pave the way for longer tenancies doesn’t even appear to be on the Government’s radar and they chose capping benefits over capping rent increases.
“The Mayor of London has pledged £9million a year to tackle rough sleeping, but this must be matched by determined action from the Government to tackle the chronic shortage of affordable housing and abandon their punitive welfare cuts and caps. We know so much about the causes of homelessness, but if we don’t start applying the solutions this picture is only going to become even more bleak.”
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