The gathering storm

A storm is heading our way. That’s the only conclusion you can sensibly draw from reading the second annual independent Homelessness Monitor, funded by Crisis and published this month.

Homelessness is a complex phenomenon, with its roots in the interaction of structural, social and individual factors. Broad economic and labour market trends can contribute to homelessness, but the housing market acts as the more direct driver. Social capital and individual resilience can reduce the risks of homelessness, while persistent structural weaknesses can slowly erode those personal protective factors and increase risks.

6964996505_6bc3262014_nThe English social safety net is conventionally seen as having a rather different structure to those of many other developed industrial countries. Our mainstream social security benefits are rather meagre by international standards, and their real value has been significantly eroded over the last couple of decades. But this is counterbalanced by a stronger housing safety net and stronger statutory homelessness provision for many types of household, although typically not for single people. It is the housing safety net, not the social security system, that breaks the link between low income and poor housing conditions. As a consequence, while the UK doesn’t do terribly well in terms of poverty rates, when looked at comparatively and cross-nationally it does rather better in terms of housing conditions.

This model is being severely challenged by the current Government’s austerity agenda. [Read more…]

Housing – winding the clock back

[Originally posted at Liberal Democrat Voice, 12/11/12]

Friday 9th November 2012 could well come to be seen as a landmark date in the history of English housing policy. A key change introduced by the Localism Act 2011 came into effect. The Liberal Democrats are part of the Government presiding over the change. Is it a change we can be proud of?

Local authorities can now discharge their statutory homelessness duty by allocating households a tenancy in the private rented sector rather than in social housing. This has been an option for years. But until now to pursue this route the local authority has had to secure agreement from the household concerned. The Localism Act removes this requirement. Households can be sent to a twelve month private sector tenancy without the local authority needing their agreement. This would constitute discharge of the homelessness duty.

Given the housing benefit cap introduced as part of the welfare reform agenda, local authorities in areas of high housing costs face a challenge. There are few, if any, properties in their local private sector that are affordable to homeless households.

So local authorities have been looking further afield to find properties at rents that will be affordable, given housing benefit restrictions. Homeless households could face relocating by hundreds of miles to secure suitable independent accommodation. London boroughs are reported to be in negotiations with authorities in areas including Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester and Merthyr Tydfil. [Read more…]