The threat of mass homelessness

Emma Taylor (pictured), Labour spokesperson for housing on Worthing Council

moved a resolution on the threat of mass homelessness at the Joint Strategic Committee of the council. Here is the text of her speech. The resolution was rejected by the Conservative ruling group.

Good evening all and thank you for the opportunity to attend this evening and explain why I have proposed this motion. I have faith that the executive members present tonight want to do all they can to prevent homelessness. The content within the motion sets out tangible actions that we can take at a local level to invest in prevention and keep people in their homes.

The motion is from the Big Issue Group who for 29 years have strived to dismantle poverty through creating opportunity; in the process becoming one of the most recognised and trusted brands in the UK.

For those who have not had a chance to read the motion or do not recall the detail I will read it out now:

Worthing Borough Council notes that thousands of families are facing evictions and repossessions as measures put in place during Covid, to protect families, have come to an end. Universal Credit has reduced by £20 per week; the furlough scheme has finished; and electricity and gas prices continue to rise at an alarming rate. Now is not the time to unravel the great interventions that the Government brought in to protect people during this unprecedented period. Unless urgent action is taken, the UK will face a homelessness crisis on a scale never seen before.

This Council resolves to:

1. Support the Big Issue’s plan to Stop Mass Homelessness by writing to the relevant Secretaries of State asking them to keep people in their homes and in sustainable jobs. They could do this by committing to pay off the £360m in rent arrears; suspending no fault evictions until a Renters’ Reform Act is passed; permanently reinstating the £20 p/w Universal Credit uplift; improving access to Discretionary Housing Payments; unfreezing Local Housing Allowance; improving support for financial literacy education; providing grants to improve the insulation of people’s homes and provide jobs and training in sustainable industries.

2. Express support for a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act requiring public bodies to consider how decisions made now affect future needs, and tackle persistent problems such as poverty, homelessness, health inequalities and climate change.

3. Commission a report outlining options that will ensure the impact of Council decisions on future generations are properly considered.

4. Commission a report outlining how the Council can expand social housing; encourage innovative ways to increase housing stock; and increase support for ethical property and letting firms.

So what is happening in Worthing?

The numbers from the last rough sleeper count were relatively low but only those who are found bedded down are counted and if you speak to the local support services they will tell you that there are many more outside than ever get recorded. Everyone deserves a safe home and even one person sleeping outside is one too many. That said I do appreciate that entrenched rough sleepers have complex needs for which there is no quick fix and long term interventions are required. I give heartfelt thanks to our wonderful officers, community organisations and faith groups for what they have done and continue to do, to support the people who are sleeping rough in our Town.

However what we need to remember is that the people sleeping on our streets are just the tip of the iceberg of those in our Town without a home of their own. There are many more people who are classed as hidden homeless who are perhaps staying with family, friends or acquaintances or living in vehicles or empty buildings. It is also becoming increasing common for young people to stay in their family home for longer, not through choice but because they cannot afford to move out. Also for grandparents to take their children and grandchildren back in when the cost of living independently proves unsustainable.

At the start of Covid when the Government issued the “Everyone In” guidance and the Council took over the Chatsworth Hotel, practically every room was filled. I was one of the volunteers delivering meals and I remember the numbers being in the high 80s. Add to this all the people in the wonderful Turning Tides temporary accommodation schemes and local bed and breakfasts and the numbers were clearly over 100. When the arrangement with the Chatsworth broke down, officers made unbelievable efforts within a matter of days to find suitable accommodation for everyone. However 18 months later, the pressure on our emergency and temporary accommodation is greater than ever.

We are in a crisis situation where we have so many people in emergency and homeless supported accommodation with no viable move options. We have little or no social housing and the private rental sector has an affordability rule of 30x monthly rent as an annual income. This excludes people on income support as well as single people working 38 hour weeks on the minimum wage and discriminates against people with disabilities and long term health conditions. Those who are placed into temporary accommodation end up being there for too long and despite the wonderful support of our outreach teams and other community based services many people feel trapped, really struggle to cope and often end up back on the streets. Even worse, the lack of suitable provision in Worthing means that increasingly people are being offered accommodation outside of the area which often means they experience difficulties accessing health treatment and support services.

Today whilst the pandemic continues, support for the poorest and most vulnerable people has been taken away. Across the Country 1.6million people were still on furlough when the scheme ended and we have close to £1 million households in rent arrears. There is a household evicted every hour and one third of these evictions are citing Covid related poverty.

In November 2021 The Big Issue revealed that if the Government does not take action now to address the full £360 million in rent arrears which was accrued during the pandemic, it could cost them over £2billion later. Utilising a study published in 2016 from the charity Crisis called ‘Better than Cure?’, The Big Issue has worked out it costs the Government £9,266 for every person made homeless, whereas the price of preventing homelessness is only £2,263.

I am sure we are all aware of the current energy bills crisis. The price cap went up by 12% in October which saw millions of families paying at least £139 more per year and it is set to go up again in April by as much as 50% according to industry predictions. The well-known money saving guru Martin Lewis was recently “near tears” after a call from a single mum who he could not help. He said “We’re getting to the point that even the savviest consumer can’t do anything.”

In Worthing the demand on community groups providing food parcels has rocketed as residents report having to chose between eating and heating. 11.5% of the population is experiencing food insecurity which equates to 12,000 people in Worthing.

In the midst of a cost of living crisis, we as a Council must invest in prevention and keep people in their homes. So what can we do locally?

  • Hopefully support this motion
  • Help people to better insulate their homes and invest in sustainable energy solutions
  • Build council housing
  • Provide innovative emergency and temporary accommodation solutions
  • Promote and support ethical property and letting firms.

There are the homeless people we see and those we don’t and in addition there are many, many more who are insecurely housed; stressed and fearful at the hands of greedy landlord’s and bankers. The true cost of this is immeasurable. When I was a child and our family home was repossessed, I saw first-hand the effect it had on my families physical and mental health and wellbeing. The insecurity is paralysing and it stays with you; my father carried guilt and shame to his dying day when it was not his shame to carry! 30 Years later I still remember the fear of thinking we would be on the streets and whilst I am thankful I only experienced a short stay in hostel accommodation I will never forget how scared and unsafe I felt there.

Overall I have been truly blessed in my life and it is an honour to be here today as a representative for my community. I am aware of the privilege I carry and that not everyone is so fortunate. We do not all get the same opportunities in life, it is not a level playing field and sadly too many are getting left behind. Whether we have direct experience of homelessness or not we must remember “There but the Grace of God go I” and treat people with the love and compassion with which we would wish to be treated ourselves. So I urge you please to consider supporting this motion.

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