Homelessness pressures in the capital are approaching their “worst-ever levels”, with London boroughs urging a rethink of national policy if the government is to have “any hope” of meeting its homelessness reduction targets.
London Councils highlights the following key concerns:
Highest temporary accommodation figures for 15 years
- 62,670 London households are homeless and living in temporary accommodation, according to the latest official data. London accounts for two thirds of England’s total temporary accommodation numbers.
- The figures show that 89,850 London children don’t have a permanent home and are set to spend Christmas in temporary accommodation organised by their local council.
- The last time there were more London households in temporary accommodation was 2005, when numbers peaked only slightly higher at 63,800. By 2011, this figure had fallen to 35,620 but has been steadily rising since.
Unprecedented challenge of sheltering rough sleepers through both Covid-19 and winter
- The latest estimate suggests there are just over 700 rough sleepers on London’s streets and boroughs are providing emergency accommodation for 2,500 (and a further 500 are in emergency accommodation arranged by the Greater London Authority). Boroughs and the GLA have provided ‘move on’ accommodation for more than 3,300 former rough sleepers since March.
- However, the normal pathway of rough sleeper hostels and winter shelters rely on shared sleeping spaces that are not Covid-19 safe. Boroughs are working hard, including with voluntary sector partners, to secure appropriate accommodation that would enable social distancing. For example, several boroughs are converting buildings previously used as care homes into rough sleeper shelters.
- This week saw boroughs activate their severe emergency weather protocols (designed to prevent rough sleeper deaths) for the first time this winter. Boroughs anticipate extreme pressure on services in the coming months, especially if there is consistently cold weather alongside a rise in Covid-19 infection rates.
Inadequate funding for sustaining homelessness services
- Analysis by London Councils shows that spending on homelessness and rough sleeping in the capital will rise by an extra £108 million in 2020/21 due to Covid-19.
- Even prior to the pandemic, London boroughs' expenditure on homelessness was expected to rise to a total of £1 billion by 2021/22.
- London boroughs collectively spend approximately £750 million on temporary accommodation each year. Expenditure on temporary accommodation is the most significant strain on boroughs’ homelessness budgets, accounting for around 80% of their total homelessness costs.
- Previous research for London Councils has made clear these costs are unsustainable. In 2017/18, £201 million of boroughs' £919 million homelessness expenditure was not covered by central government grants or councils' housing income (such as rental payments), meaning boroughs resort to covering the costs from their general funds (which could be used for other council services).
While London Councils supports the government’s aims on reducing homelessness – including its commitment to ending rough sleeping by 2024 – the umbrella group warns that greater investment in local homelessness services is required for overcoming these mounting pressures, as well as changes to welfare policy and support for new social housing.
Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ Executive Member for Housing & Planning, said:
“It’s hugely distressing to see homelessness in London approaching its worst-ever levels.
“With almost 90,000 children in the capital living in homeless households and set to spend Christmas in temporary accommodation, it’s obvious we can’t go on like this. London faces the most severe crisis in the country but homelessness is a major national challenge and the government must redouble its efforts on getting these numbers down.
“As well as skyrocketing temporary accommodation figures, councils face the nightmare scenario of extreme pressures on rough sleeper services that need to cope both with Covid-19 and cold weather snaps. And this is all taking place against a backdrop of horrendous budget constraints.
“Boroughs are doing all we can to support homeless Londoners this winter but if there’s be any hope of the government reaching its targets on reducing homelessness we need ministers to rethink their welfare policies, boost funding for frontline services, and prioritise building more affordable homes.”
London Councils is calling on the government to:
- Improve the welfare system’s ability to prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place. This could be achieved through: ending the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments to begin; making sure Local Housing Allowance continues to match the cost of renting in London (in April the government increased LHA rates to cover at least 30% of local private sector rents); restoring government funding for councils’ local welfare assistance schemes supporting residents in financial crisis (the government abolished its £178 million annual funding for local welfare assistance from 2015/16, forcing councils to finance this provision from their own general funds).
- Confirm long-term funding arrangements for sustaining local homelessness services, including extra investment to help services cope with increasing homelessness levels and to reduce pressure on boroughs’ general funds.
- Boost councils’ resources for building social housing. There are currently 243,000 London households on boroughs’ housing waiting lists. If the government confirmed social rent levels for the next ten years (as opposed to only four) and ended its restrictions on how councils can use Right to Buy sales receipts, boroughs would be in a stronger financial position to invest in new social homes for their communities.