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Housing

The Big Issue’s urgent plan to stop mass homelessness

Read The Big Issue’s nine point plan – and find out how you can help

The Big Issue was launched 30 years ago to tackle the homelessness crisis. Back then, we were focused on helping the thousands of people forced to sleep rough in our towns and cities.

Thirty years on, a global pandemic has made the issue of homelessness bigger than ever.

Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of losing their homes right now. The numbers are staggering.

Sign our petition to #StopMassHomelessness

There are 564,000 people in rent arrears, 190,000 owner-occupied homes in financial difficulty, 4.3 million people are behind on household bills.

Our research also found a shocking statistic. In the first quarter of 2021, there were 632 mortgage repossessions and rental evictions. This means that a household was made homeless on average every three-and-a-half hours.

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Since the first lockdown last year, we have supported steps to protect and prevent people losing their income. As the furlough scheme ends and the eviction ban lifts, we are approaching a cliff edge that could see unprecedented numbers of people being made homeless through no fault of their own.

For three decades we have fought for people who have lost their homes and now we really need to step it up.

This week we launch our Stop Mass Homelessness campaign with the aim to prevent the immediate threat of mass homelessness and invest for the future.

We are making simple demands of government:

  • Pay off £360m in rent arrears
  • Suspend no-fault evictions until a Renters’ Reform Act is passed
  • Make permanent the £20 Universal Credit uplift
  • Improve access to Discretionary Housing Payment and unfreeze Local Housing Allowance

To address long-term challenges we also call for:

  • A Future Generations Act to end short-term thinking of government policy
  • Expand social housing and encourage innovative ways to increase housing stock
  • Improve support for financialliteracy education
  • Increase support for ethical property and letting firms
  • Invest to create new green jobs

To achieve these aims we are drawing on experts working on the front line – from architect and TV presenter George Clarke to advocacy groups like Generation Rent. Starting in this edition we’ll unpick the causes of the housing crisis, meet the people who are impacted and share ideas about how to fix the problem.

Stop Mass Homelessness: our nine-point plan explained

01. Pay off £360m in rent arrears

With one in eight renters currently in debt to their landlord, the economic shock of Covid is hitting many hard. One campaign that is hoping to make a difference is Generation Rent’s aim to end the rent debt crisis via means-tested grants. “The number of private renters getting Universal Credit has doubled since the start of the pandemic, and the level of support it provides is not enough to cover the rent,” said Generation Rent’s director Alicia Kennedy. “That means people getting behind on rent and at risk of eviction. Even if their income recovers, it will be impossible to pay off all this debt while staying on top of other bills.  The government must step in and clear this rent debt and let renters get on with their lives. Otherwise society will pay a higher price through a homelessness crisis.”

02. Suspend no-fault evictions until a Renters’ Reform Act is passed

With so many people struggling to pay their bills, there could be an avalanche of evictions. We need to protect those whose income has been temporarily hit to make sure that steps being taken in the short term don’t have a damaging long-term impact. The Westminster government promised to scrap no-fault evictions – where landlords can end a tenancy without giving a reason – in 2019, but they are yet to make it law. Delivering that promise is needed now more than ever.

03. Make permanent the £20 Universal Credit uplift

Anti-poverty experts welcomed a £20 weekly increase in payments for those claiming Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits, introduced at the start of lockdown last year. It was initially expected to end in April this year, but at the spring Budget Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended the increase until September.  If the increase is taken away, it would mean that 6.2 million families could face a £1,040 cut to their annual income, just as furlough is also due to finish. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation it would result in another half a million – including 200,000 children – pushed into poverty. It will disproportionately affect single parents, BAME families and households including a person who is disabled. The move already has cross-party support, with six former Work and Pension Secretaries, including Universal Credit mastermind Iain Duncan Smith, writing a joint open letter this month urging Boris Johnson not to phase out the increase. This could be the first time we agree
on something.

04. Improve access to Discretionary Housing Payment and unfreeze Local Housing Allowance

Discretionary Housing Payments can be used by local authorities to provide more support to cover the cost of housing for people on Universal Credit or housing benefits. But more people need to know about them. If, as anticipated, large numbers of additional households present with debts built up during the pandemic, further funding for the scheme will be needed to prevent adding to the number of homeless individuals and families. Housing benefits are calculated using a Local Housing Allowance. In theory, this allows the amount paid by a council to support someone on housing benefit to vary depending on the local housing market. The problem is the Chancellor has frozen the rates. As rents increase and many earnings decrease, there is no flexibility in the support. This saves the Treasury money, but means the majority of private rented properties will be out of reach to anybody reliant on benefits.

05. A Future Generations Act to end short-term thinking in government policy

Tackling the big issues both the UK and the world are facing, such as the climate crisis and housing, requires long-term thinking that is at odds with the five-year election cycle we have. That’s where the Future Generations Bill comes in. Decisions made by the politicians in power right now will have huge consequences not only for society today but also for the generations that follow. Big Issue founder John Bird’s Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill recently had its second reading in the House of Lords and needs to be made law to ensure future generations are considered in policy plans. 

06. Expand social housing and encourage innovative ways to increase housing stock

The 2021 Crisis Homelessness Monitor claimed that the best way to reduce homelessness long-term is a large expansion of housing supply – including, of course, an increase in social housing. Supply of social housing stock has fallen over the decades. We need housing policy built with those at the bottom of the housing ladder in mind.  It is also a time for innovative thinking. Filling empty properties, repurposing existing buildings, making sure standards are kept high. New-builds, as well as being affordable, must be environmentally sustainable. Building more homes can also help reduce the costs of living – if they are built in an energy-efficient way. There is no point in people having a home that they can’t afford to heat and ending up in fuel poverty.

07. Improve support for financial literacy education

A home for everyone is vital, being able to stay there depends on managing household budgets and bills. However research has shown that almost half of the UK population lacks basic financial literacy. The stress this causes also has negative consequences for people’s physical and mental health. While schools have a role to play, it’s adults who can have most difficulty accessing and understanding the information they need. Organisations such as The Money Charity offer financial literacy training, but other than that, help can be difficult to find.

08. Increase support for ethical property and letting firms

Housing is a human right but the current property market allows rogue landlords and letting agents to thrive. Debates about the benefits of landlord registers – like the one in operation in Scotland – continue, but more could be done to reward good practice. Government could provide more support for social purpose letting agencies that aim to improve conditions for tenants and support them as much as possible to maintain their housing. Homes for Good is a leading example of this kind of work and is being supported by our social investment arm Big Issue Invest.

09. Invest to create new green jobs

Creating sustainable jobs for people is the best way to guarantee financial security in the future. Research from Green New Deal UK found that £68bn of investment would generate 1.2 million jobs in the next two years.

Pledge your support for the campaign to stop mass homelessness by signing our petition here: bigissue.com/stop-mass-homelessness

Join the conversation and share your support using the hashtag #StopMassHomelessness

Over the coming weeks we will let you know how you can get more involved, to campaign for change in your area.

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Over the last 30 years, your contributions have been vital in providing opportunities for those facing poverty by giving them a hand up, not a hand out. Support us to help thousands more. Buy a copy from your local vendor, donate or subscribe online today.

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