Their figures may slightly differ, but there's one thing the Government and charities agree on: homelessness in the UK is on the rise. Housing charity Shelter's stats tell us that over 300,000 people are currently homeless, with forecasts suggesting the problem is getting worse. So why has homelessness grown so much and what can be done?
An increase in house prices are partly to blame, but skyrocketing rents are what have really fuelled a rise in homelessness. Since 2010, private sector rents in England have increased three times faster than wages. So it’s hardly surprising that many people are finding it hard to keep up with costs.
But why has the increase been so uneven? Most analysts agree the trend has been driven by a shortage of new homes – especially affordable housing. The same problem makes it tough for young people to get on the housing ladder.
It’s tempting to think of homelessness as sleeping rough. The reality is that most of the UK’s homeless population are either in unsuitable accommodation or stuck couchsurfing. In London, it's claimed that there are 13 times more 'hidden homeless' as there are on the streets, squatting or sleeping on public transport. These particular problems are blamed largely on government welfare reforms.
The National Audit Office says the freezing of benefits has made it harder for struggling households to make ends meet. Equally, the Government has been cutting back on suitable council housing, which is leaving those in need with nowhere to turn. Worse still, the savings these freezes and other benefit reforms are supposedly bringing in could be a false economy – homelessness is costing the taxpayer over £1 billion per year.
Building a solution
At the end of last year, the government promised £40 million to a homelessness action programme, as well as 300,000 new homes per year to tackle the housing crisis – so change is in the pipeline.
Crisis argues further that increased prevention work over the same period could reduce levels by 34%. This will be tougher to achieve. Managing mortgage costs, assisting those in debt and ensuring that affordable housing remains available will all be crucial to achieving the target.