Thank you to everyone who has emailed me about this St. Mungo’s campaign for action to tackle rough sleeping during and beyond the coronavirus pandemic.
Homelessness and rough seeping are not inevitable in a country as decent and well-off as ours. Yet homelessness is rising and the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled since 2010.
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 as part of the ‘Everybody In’ policy. I agree that the emergency measures of the last few months demonstrate we can end rough sleeping for good. However, I am concerned that people who have found themselves sleeping rough since the start of the pandemic have been left out.
Recent data shows that rough sleeping increased sharply during lockdown and figures are expected to rise further as we head into winter. The housing charity Shelter estimates that more than 320,000 renters have fallen behind on their rent as a result of COVID-19 and are now at risk of eviction.
I believe the Government should keep its promise that no renter will lose their home because of the coronavirus. This should be accompanied by strengthening the social security system, including ending the five-week wait for housing benefit and scrapping the benefit cap so that everyone can access the emergency support they need. While Ministers have raised Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to cover the 30th percentile of local market rents, I believe they should go further and increase LHA to cover average rents to ensure that nobody is made homeless as a result of any fall in income during the pandemic.
Beyond the coronavirus emergency, there can be no return to business as usual. It is paramount that Ministers end rough sleeping for good. Additional funding to provide new supported homes to vulnerable rough sleepers is welcome. However, councils have said a lack of affordable housing is the biggest challenge facing local authorities in fulfilling their duty to try and prevent homelessness.
I hope the Government will address these issues and provide further details on funding for homelessness services ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review.