'The root is a lack of social housing', says Shelter chief exec on rising homelessness

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The chief executive of housing charity Shelter has blamed a lack of social housing for the rising number of homeless people in the UK.

Research by the charity suggests there are 320,000 homeless people in the UK, a 4% increase from last year.

Some 170,000 of those are in London, with the borough of Newham having the highest incidence of homelessness in the UK - one in 24 people there are in insecure housing.

Chief executive Polly Neate told Julia Hartley-Brewer that rough sleepers were the “tip of the iceberg”, and their study also included people without a stable home.

“What we mean is people in temporary accommodation, for example, they might be families in bed and breakfasts, or people who are in hostels. People who are denied a safe home,” Ms Neate said.

“The biggest cause of homelessness is eviction from a private tenancy - the rules around how you can be evicted are pretty lax.

“Tenants don’t have enough rights in the system. That’s coupled with other factors - we’re also seeing the impact of welfare reform; people simply don’t have the money they used to have, or we get the well-publicised delays with people starting on Universal Credit.

“The real root of this is the lack of social housing. We’re seeing the lowest amount of council housing built since the Second World War, and we’ve got 1.2 million people on council housing waiting lists.”


'The system is broken'

Government statistics show that just over 30,000 new social homes were provided in 2008-2009, but this fell to just 5,380 in 2016-2017.

Hartley-Brewer questioned whether the rising number of homeless people was down to councils not fulfilling their obligations.

“Councils aren’t helping - they’re requiring tenants to wait until they’re evicted before they help. Isn’t it a failure by local councils to do the job in a timely way?” she asked.

“We can sometimes get people housed by advocating with them to their local authorities,” said Ms Neate.

“We do need to remind councils of their obligations. It is important to say that councils are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“Because of the lack of social housing, they’re ploughing millions of pounds into unsuitable temporary accommodation.

“The system is completely broken.”

She added: “A safe home is a fundamental human need and should be a right, and we’re a long way from that happening.”