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Housing Rough-sleeping rise ‘linked to benefits’

Increasing homelessness down to Tory policies, say academics

RISING homelessness can almost entirely be accounted for by private-sector tenants being evicted because of benefit reforms and the housing market, academics said yesterday.

The number of people officially recorded as sleeping on the streets of England rose from 1,768 when the Tories took over in 2010 to 4,751 in 2017, according to the Ministry of Housing — though charities say the true figure is more than double that.

It is the highest number since comparable records began in 2010.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Mark Fransham and Danny Dorling of the University of Oxford warn of the serious health implications of sleeping rough, including respiratory conditions, depression, anxiety, accidents, shorter life-span and excess winter mortality.

The rise in rough-sleeping runs parallel to an increase in homeless families housed by  councils in temporary accommodation over the seven years, from 50,000 to 78,000, they wrote.

In London alone, there are an estimated 225,000 “hidden homeless” people aged 16-25, who are sofa-surfing and being put up on a temporary basis by friends or family.

Likely causes for the huge hike in homelessness include high rents and reduced availability of affordable social housing since the early 1980s, they said.

Reduced funding for supporting vulnerable people with housing — cut by 59 per cent in real terms since 2010 — and restrictions on housing benefit for poorer families have also contributed, the pair said.

“What is needed is a comprehensive strategy that improves services for vulnerable people, an increased supply of affordable housing, more security of tenancies, adequate cash benefits to cover the rising cost of housing and more efficient use of our existing housing stock,” they wrote.

They described several initiatives, such the “housing first” model, which provides a secure tenancy for rough-sleepers before associated issues like substance misuse and ill-health are addressed.

This approach is found in Finland, the only European country where homelessness has recently fallen, they said.

It is now being piloted in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham, with estimated potential savings of up to £5 million a year.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced on Sunday that a Labour government would immediately buy 8,000 properties to house rough sleepers.

The party would also give local authorities the power to seize properties that had been deliberately left vacant, he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show.

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