With the furlough scheme ended and a host of other lifelines cut, Guy Horne, CEO and co-founder of HSPG, explores how the UK’s post-COVID transition could precipitate a dramatic rise in homelessness
Whilst the UK homelessness crisis has been an issue for many years, the pandemic has heightened its severity.
We made progress during lockdown to tackle the crisis as the ‘Everyone In’ initiative successfully provided shelter for 37,000 people at risk of homelessness. However, the shelter provided was only temporary and, as we transition out of these restrictions, we are facing a drastic increase in homelessness.
The city of Glasgow recently announced that it will extend the emergency accommodation from this initiative whilst the country continues to deal with the effects of COVID-19.
However, the rest of the UK has failed to follow suit and, with the economic effects of the pandemic also having an impact, there is an urgent need for a far more permanent solution to the UK homelessness crisis.
Imminent increase in homelessness
The Everyone In initiative has been hailed as a great success, but little attention has been paid to the need for a longer-term solution. In addition, the pandemic has resulted in more households feeling the financial effect of the crisis.
During the last lockdown, one household became homeless every three minutes.
Whilst the government’s initiative was successful, its effects are only temporary. If we do not seek a longer-term solution, there will be thousands of people back on the streets as we transition out of the pandemic.
As the initiative is phased out, it is urgent that we find a solution that provides those vulnerable and at risk of homelessness with long term support.
Furlough winding down, prices shooting up
At the same time as this, temporary accommodation is being withdrawn and the furlough scheme has been phased out. This means that further financial hardship will coincide with a removal of housing support.
In fact, economists have warned that 1.9m workers will be in a critical position as the scheme ends, with 11 million workers’ wages having been funded by this scheme since the pandemic began.
“If we do not seek a longer-term solution, there will be thousands of people back on the streets as we transition out of the pandemic”
This means that millions of people could see their livelihoods withdrawn just as accommodation support also evaporates.
Furthermore, house prices have seen an exponential increase during the pandemic. In June alone, UK house prices rose at the fastest pace since 2004 as the average price of a home in the UK hit a record high of £266,000 – an increase of £31,000 from last year.
This drastic rise in prices, coupled with the financial hardships due to be faced by many in the UK, is set to make housing less accessible than ever.
The impending homelessness crisis makes it clear that we urgently need to seek more permanent solutions to affordable housing. Under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, it is local authorities’ duty to prevent and relieve homelessness.
At HSPG, our strong partnerships with local authorities, such as our long-term partnership with Manchester City Council, allow them to meet their obligation to deliver housing, care, and support services for the most vulnerable. Through these partnerships we can help foster long-term solutions.
In order to find permanent solutions, it is also necessary to seek alternative methods such as the conversion of retail space into homes.
For example, HSPG recently acquired a former William Hill shop and converted it into apartments for victims of domestic abuse. We have also transformed a Lloyds TSB branch into homes for those at risk of homelessness in Lancashire.
Transitioning out of the pandemic
As financial and housing support schemes founded during the pandemic are brought to an end, it is important that we don’t forget the crises they sought to address. In fact, the pandemic has only increased the need for affordable housing.
The Kerslake commission on homelessness and rough sleeping recently announced that the ‘principles and funding’ of the Everyone In scheme must remain to prevent rough sleeping.
It is clear that we simply cannot afford to phase out these temporary measures. We must look to the long-term and ensure that there is a home for everyone in the UK who needs one.
Image: Guy Horne, CEO, HSPG
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