Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about the St Mungo’s campaign asking for action to tackle rough sleeping during and beyond the coronavirus outbreak.
Homelessness and rough sleeping are not inevitable in a country as prosperous as the UK. Yet homelessness is rising and the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled since 2010. As of May 1st, there were 4,184 people identified as sleeping rough in London – an increase of more than 500 on the week previous. Of this, 3,630 are currently being accommodated by a London borough or the GLA (up from 3,196 the week previous). Around 554 people are therefore still thought to be sleeping on the streets in London, representing both a significant increase in new cases and a few instances of previously accommodated people leaving that support. I completely agree that the coronavirus public health emergency presents the Government with a once in a generation opportunity to help thousands of rough sleepers off the streets for good.
I pay tribute to the work of local government and housing charities who have played a vital role in the national effort to help thousands of people off the streets at this crucial time. The Government has rightly committed to protecting vulnerable rough sleepers throughout the pandemic.
Beyond the coronavirus emergency, there can be no return to business as usual and I believe it is vital that Ministers build on the progress that has been made. I welcome additional funding to provide new supported homes to vulnerable rough sleepers beyond the pandemic and I look forward to seeing further details from Ministers.
More widely, I believe the Government must now act to ensure that people who rent their home do not fall into arrears as a result of coronavirus by strengthening the social security system and preventing those tenants who have fallen behind on their rent from eviction when the temporary eviction ban ends in July. If they don’t, I am concerned that the number of homeless people will rise sharply.
I also support calls for the Government to end the five-week wait for housing benefit and to suspend the benefit cap so that everyone can access the emergency support they need. The Government’s decision to increase Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is welcome and I will urge Ministers to maintain LHA rates at this level beyond the pandemic. In the short term, I believe the Government should consider raising LHA further to cover average rents to ensure that nobody is made homeless as a result of any fall in income during the pandemic.