London faces the most severe homelessness crisis in the country, according to the capitals borough councils, as they face a “triple whammy” of upcoming risks over the summer, as lockdown restrictions and special covid-19 emergency aid for the homeless are withdrawn.
Here in Croydon, the council announced yesterday that it has been awarded a £1.76million government grant for its ongoing work providing specialist support for rough sleepers.
The funding will support the council’s projects to help people off the streets, employ more specialist staff and offer extra financial support to help former rough sleepers find a place of their own.
The broader picture across the capital, though, remains bleak, according to a report this week from the London Councils cross-party organisation.
Research from the London School of Economics suggests 400,000 Londoners are in significant rent arrears as a result of covid-19, while more than 130,000 Londoners have become unemployed since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
The latest data for the three months ending February 2021, shows that London has the highest unemployment rate in the UK at 7.2 per cent, compared to the UK average of 4.9 per cent.
Analysis commissioned by the London Councils group shows this could worsen further after the furlough scheme ends in September, with potentially 1-in-10 Londoners (9.4 per cent) facing the prospect of joblessness by the end of the year.
Other factors seem likely to see more people forced to sleep rough.
The government’s temporary ban on evictions is due to end on May 31.
“While the ban has protected households in financial difficulty from being made homeless during the pandemic, no additional support has yet been provided to help private renters pay off their arrears,” a London Boroughs spokesperson told Inside Croydon.
Boroughs anticipate a spike in renters facing eviction and turning to their local councils for help to avoid becoming homeless.
In response to covid-19 and the government’s “Everyone In” directive, boroughs are providing emergency accommodation for 2,659 rough sleepers. Together with the GLA, the 32 boroughs have arranged “move on” accommodation for more than 4,597 former rough sleepers since March 2020. The London boroughs’ spending on homelessness and rough sleeping rose by £107million last year (2020-2021) due to covid-19.
Although the government provided emergency funding for supporting rough sleepers and covering these additional homelessness costs during the pandemic, there is little clarity over what funding will be available beyond next month. “This undermines councils’ ability to plan service provision,” London Councils say.
London’s boroughs spent a total of £1.1billion on homelessness services in 2019-2020 – before the pandemic.
London Councils estimates there are currently 165,000 homeless Londoners living in borough-provided temporary accommodation, accounting for two-thirds of England’s homelessness total.
And these figures includes tens of thousands of young children.
Almost 70 per cent of London households in temporary accommodation have at least one child. The most recent figures estimate that there could be 90,000 children in temporary accommodation in London in total.
With 60,680 London households in temporary accommodation today, boroughs fear new records could be set this year unless the government increases investment in homelessness prevention.
“In the coming months we can expect a triple whammy of continuing job losses in the capital, the imminent lifting of the evictions ban, and uncertainty over future funding levels for local homelessness services,” said Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ executive member for housing and planning.
“Boroughs are doing everything we can to tackle homelessness in the capital, but ultimately we need the government to rethink its welfare policies and to boost long-term funding for local services if we’re to reverse these disastrous trends.”
London Councils is calling on the government to:
- Confirm both short-term and long-term funding arrangements. Boroughs need clarity over what government support will be available for covid-related homelessness costs beyond June this year. They also need longer-term certainty over funding to meet London’s unsustainable homelessness pressures. London Councils is pushing for more investment in the government’s spending review due later this year.
- End the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments to begin. Local Housing Allowance must continue to match the cost of renting in London. In April 2020, as part of its response to the covid-19 pandemic, the government increased LHA rates to cover at least 30 per cent of local private sector rents.
- Restore government funding for councils’ local welfare assistance schemes supporting residents in financial crisis. The government abolished its £178million annual funding for local welfare assistance from 2015-2016, forcing councils to finance this provision from their own general funds.
- Increase Discretionary Housing Payment funding to support households at risk of homelessness. National funding for these payments was reduced by 22 per cent for 2021-2022.
- Improve councils’ resources for building social housing. There are 243,000 London households on boroughs’ housing waiting lists. If the government confirmed social rent levels for the next 10 years (as opposed to only four) and ended its restrictions on how councils can use Right to Buy sales receipts, boroughs would be in a stronger financial position to invest in new social homes for their communities.
In Croydon, the latest government grant is to be used for a range of measures to help rough sleepers. There will be £395,000 for emergency accommodation through the council’s Somewhere Safe to Stay hub, run by charity Evolve Housing + Support.
Around £130,000 will go to the council’s Housing First project, which arranges specialist long-term housing, medical and mental health support that has prevented around 25 of the most vulnerable rough sleepers from returning to the streets.
The funding also includes £322,000 for specialist staff that support rough sleepers and £150,000 to find more private rented housing for eligible rough sleepers and provide grants to help them afford these moves.
During the national lockdowns, Croydon placed over 450 homeless people into temporary or long-term private supported housing.
“This funding means we and our partners will expand the practical and personal help that rough sleepers need, including for some very vulnerable people,” said Patricia Hay-Justice, the council cabinet member for homes.
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