Homelessness has reached ‘dramatic proportions’ in the UK, says new report

Houses for sale, and a homeless man sitting on a bench
Fréa Lockley

Homelessness has reached “dramatic proportions” in the UK, says a new report [pdf]. For the lowest earning people, the cost of housing has risen faster in the UK than almost anywhere in western Europe. This puts more people at risk of becoming homeless. There is “another” Europe emerging as austerity impacts on thousands. Although the trend exists throughout Europe, the UK’s record is one of the worst.

Housing is a “right”, not a “reward”

A report [pdf] by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) examined rising housing costs for the poorest people in society. It placed the UK second to last. FEANTSA director Freek Spinnewijn said [pdf, p4]:

Housing exclusion and homelessness have taken dramatic proportions in the UK. For almost all indicators the UK scores bad in a European perspective and the situation has often worsened over the last few years. Especially worrying are the massive increase of rough sleepers (137% increase since 2010) and homeless people in temporary accommodation (73% increase since 2011). The situation of young people on the housing market is also becoming hopeless.

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Since 2010, there has been a 70% increase [pdf, p1] in the number of households spending more than 40% of their income on housing. As The Guardian reported:

The cost of a home for the lowest earners has risen faster in Britain than anywhere in western Europe… Housing costs for people who earn about £16,000 a year increased by 45% between 2010 and 2016.

The report also established [pdf] that, in the UK:

  • Between 2011 and 2017, the number of households living in temporary accommodation increased by 60%.
  • In March 2017, 77,240 households were in temporary accommodation. This included 120,540 children – a 73% rise since 2011.
  • 88,410 households applied for homeless assistance in 2016-2017.
  • 8.7% of poor households were in rent or mortgage arrears in 2016.
  • In general, non-British nationals face worse housing conditions and are 2.6 times more likely to be impacted than British nationals.

FEANTSA project officer Chloé Serme-Morin told The Canary:

We need to shift the thinking about housing – it should be seen as a right, and not as a reward. Long-term housing is a prerequisite for well-being, recovery and social integration. It is a means – and not an end – to the protection of all social rights and personal development of an individual.

‘Another’ Europe

Across Europe, the study revealed that:

over 24 million households… are overburdened by housing costs, nearly 37 million households live in overcrowded conditions and nearly 34 million live in damp conditions.

The report also found [pdf] “another” Europe is growing fast:

a Europe not merely ignored but also misunderstood, not just despised but also forgotten – a Europe of the homeless. Children now make up the largest group of people in emergency shelters. Women, young adults, people with a migration background and the working poor are also increasingly numerous among the homeless population.

Overburdened

This study states that, without significant change, the homeless crisis in the UK will continue. Since 2010, the number of people sleeping rough in the UK has risen 169%. According to government estimates [pdf, p3], there are 4,751 rough sleepers in the UK. Homeless charities said even this rise failed to reflect actual levels of rough sleeping.

As poverty increases, and rents continue to rise, homelessness increases. Spinnewijn said:

On average in the UK, poor households spend 47.4% of their disposable income on housing (spending more than 40% of one’s income on housing is known as housing cost overburden and is generally regarded as the benchmark above which general welfare and standard of living is threatened).

Findings like this suggest that statutory homelessness will continue to rise. As reported in The Guardian, the FEANTSA report:

concludes that in England the main cause of statutory homelessness is the termination of private rental contracts, when people cannot afford to find another home.

Chronic lack of affordable housing

The report also identifies [pdf] a “chronic” lack of affordable housing in the England.

  • Between 2010 and 2016, private rents increased by 24% in London. This was eight times the increase in average incomes.
  • The increase in private rents in most of England is three times that of average incomes.
  • There’s been an 80% increase in private rental housing alongside a 32% reduction in social rented housing owned by local authorities.

In addition to a rise in statutory homelessness, it’s likely that this lack of housing will push many more people into the soaring numbers of hidden homelessness.

“Violation of human rights”

FEANTSA [pdf, p9] states that, according to the UN, it is a government’s responsibility to “design and implement policies, laws and strategies to prevent and remedy homelessness”. And:

Failure to do so reflects that homelessness has neither been recognised nor addressed as a violation of human rights.

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Featured images via Andy Beecroft – Wikimedia / Ed Yourdon – Wikimedia

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