'Bold action' needed to stop increase in homelessness as recession hits

The Government must commit to properly funding homelessness support services or risk soaring numbers of rough sleepers, a charity has warned.

The Government provided councils with funding to provide emergency accommodation to 15,000 rough sleepers earlier in the year. Picture: Yui Mok/PA
The Government provided councils with funding to provide emergency accommodation to 15,000 rough sleepers earlier in the year. Picture: Yui Mok/PA

The Salvation Army said the economic consequences of the pandemic will increase rough sleeping and force families into expensive and unsuitable temporary accommodation, like bed and breakfast, as local authorities struggle to manage rising homelessness levels with urban areas likely to be worst affected.

The report comes as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the economy shrank 20.4 per cent between April and June - plunging the UK into recession for the first time in 11 years.The charity has called for sustained investment to build on the “amazing progress” made on homelessness during the pandemic, a new approach to investment in homelessness and rough sleeping, and an increase in the supply of available homes.

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It wants a commitment in the Autumn Spending Review to properly fund homelessness measures.

The Salvation Army's director of homelessness services, Lorrita Johnson, said: "It's not too late to stop a massive increase in homelessness and rough sleeping caused by the current economic downturn.

"Bold government moves like the furlough scheme, temporary protection from eviction and emergency accommodation for rough sleepers saved lives and ensured thousands still had a home.

"However, our report demonstrates that if the Government mirrors the austerity approach it took during the last economic crisis, there will be dire consequences for rough sleepers, private renters and the economy as a whole.

"The only way to prevent a homelessness and rough sleeping crisis is to approach funding for homelessness services in the same way the Government funds physical infrastructure and invest for the future."

Policy and partnerships manager at the York-based poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Iain Porter said: "To make sure everyone has a decent, affordable place to call home, the Government must match its ambitious rhetoric on ending rough sleeping with the necessary resources to get the job done.

"Increasing housing benefit levels to the lowest third of local rents was a good first step to protect private renters during the pandemic, and at a minimum the Government should maintain this support to prevent more people being pushed into homelessness by high housing costs."

During the early months of lockdown, the Government provided councils with funding to ensure 15,000 rough sleepers had emergency accommodation. That funding has now ended, with councils invited to apply to a new £105m Next Steps Accommodation Programme.

The Local Government Association’s housing spokesperson, Coun David Renard, said the pandemic had “exacerbated the significant challenges” councils already faced supporting homeless people.

“In the short term, to prevent any immediate rise in homelessness, the Government should bring forward its pledge to end ‘no fault evictions’, which would help reduce the number of people evicted, and commit to maintaining local housing allowance rates at the lowest third of market rents,” he said.

“In the longer term, housing must be a central part of the recovery from coronavirus, with the Spending Review delivering a genuine renaissance in council house-building that reduces homelessness, gets rough sleepers off the streets for good, supports people’s wellbeing and is climate-friendly.”

The Government has been approached to comment.