This week the plight of homeless people across the country is again in the news, due to the hard-hitting report just published by Shelter ‘Far From Alone: Homelessness in Britain in 2017’.
In our city, despite the huge priority we at the council and many local services and charities give to preventing homelessness, and working with rough sleepers, we still have the highest rate of people in the South East without a proper home. Too many residents are either in temporary or emergency accommodation rather than in a more permanent home and to understand the huge scale of the problem, over the last year our services in the city have already helped 1,300 people to move away from sleeping rough on the streets.
We are building new council homes, and our joint venture aims to build hundreds of new homes that those on the very lowest incomes in the city will be able to rent. We are also working hard to improve standards of homes in the private rented sector. However, for some people the housing crisis is still deepening, and the speed and focus with which we are all trying to bring about positive change in our city is being met by a lack of urgency at the national level, made worse by some really bad policy making, like the roll out of Universal Credit. As my colleague Cllr Penn so rightly pointed out in council last week, ‘thanks to Universal Credit the just about managing will become the not managing at all’. Many people can’t cope with the in-built six week delay in Universal Credit payments, or that the benefit is usually paid monthly. They are already stretching money from one day to the next, and inevitably this is leading to more, not less, housing arrears, and more risk of homelessness.
But the government is ignoring these concerns, in the same way that it has failed to act fast enough to tackle the housing crisis. Last week we called on the government to make private rented sector tenancies more secure, to allow rent controls where there is a local need, and to enable councils to build more council homes. The government is failing in its duty in many ways, and homelessness in Britain is just a very real and visible one.
Warren Morgan is the Labour leader of Brighton & Hove City Council.