Further urgent action needed to avoid homelessness, as well as economic crisis

The cost of living crisis could have a ‘catastrophic’ impact on homelessness if the new Prime Minister and her Government do not treat it with the same level of urgency seen at the start of the pandemic.

That is the warning today, (21 September) from an influential group of experts from the housing, homelessness, health and political sectors.

The Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping has published a new report entitled ‘A New Way of Working: Ending Rough Sleeping Together – Progress Report September 2022 which assesses the steps made towards ending rough sleeping in England and considers the impact of the current economic crisis.

The Commission – chaired by the former Head of the Civil Service Lord Bob Kerslake – is an independent group of 36 experts from the health, housing and homelessness sectors, including people with lived experience, as well as representatives from local and national government. The secretariat function is provided by leading homelessness charity St Mungo’s.

In its latest report The Commission tracks the progress against its original recommendations made last September, grading them as green, amber or red – as well as providing an updated set of recommendations reflecting the present cost of living emergency.

These include:

  • Reintroducing a temporary ban on evictions, as seen during the pandemic, to ensure that no one is made homeless as a result of the cost of living crisis – mirroring what was announced in Scotland earlier this month.
  • Increasing the benefit cap and bringing benefits in line with inflation immediately – not in April 2023 as planned.
  • Raising local housing allowances so that so they are in line with the bottom 30% of the market

In total, 27% of The Commission’s original recommendations were rated ‘green’, meaning that they have been achieved.

Commission Chair Lord Kerslake said: “This Commission was formed in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis and we have seen much progress and excellent work done since as detailed in this report including some significant policy changes from the Government, and the publication of its new Rough Sleeping Strategy earlier this month.

“However, two years on from the pandemic we are facing a new crisis. The cause may be different by it the response must be equally urgent.

“The new Prime Minister has already announced plans to cap average household energy bills at £2,500 a year from next month. And this, while welcome, is not enough.

“Even with this help thousands of people are still facing the very real prospect of losing their homes because they are struggling to manage. The devastating effect this is having can be clearly seen in the testimonies of people who so kindly shared their personal experience with The Commission.

“We once again need to see the strong, decisive leadership from the Government we did during ‘Everyone In’, backed by resources and funding. But this time the focus must be two pronged. It is no longer just about getting people off the streets, it is about ensuring people who are currently at risk of homelessness don’t end up on them.

“Failure to act could see this become a homelessness as well as an economic crisis and the results could be catastrophic; with all the good achieved in reducing street homelessness since the pandemic lost, and any hope of the Government meeting its manifesto pledge to end rough sleeping by 2024 gone.”

Rebecca Sycamore, Interim Chief Executive of St Mungo’s said: “We are once again happy to support the excellent work of the Commission. When it was convened it was always intended to have longevity and not to produce reports that just sit on a shelf gathering dust but which provide practical and achievable recommendations to help to end rough sleeping.

 “As a leading provider of frontline homelessness services we see every day the very real and very harsh reality of this financial crisis.

“And with more price increases, and the colder weather coming, it is very likely many of those currently just scraping by will no longer be able to manage, and could be at real risk of losing their homes.

“In order to prevent this from becoming a homelessness crisis action is needed now – and we fully support the new recommendations made by the Commission and urge Liz Truss and her ministers to introduce these measures as a matter of urgency to prevent more people ending up homeless this winter.”

The report contains a number of personal testimonies from people who describe how the cost of living crisis is affecting them.

One St Mungo’s client who is living semi-independently and manages their own finances, said:

“I receive £308 a month Universal Credit. A typical food shop that used to be £20 is now £35. I buy all my toiletries from discount stores. I can’t save any money towards move on costs or unexpected emergencies. Three days after getting paid I will have spent all my money paying my rent arrears, food, essentials. I have a savings account but never been able to save more than £10 and often dip into these tiny savings because I have no choice.

“Living like this is making me more depressed and anxious all the time. Today I feel angry, really angry telling you what it’s like to live miserably on such a low income.

“It’s not fair I am trying everything I can to turn my life around but things that are beyond my control have an impact on my hopes, my dreams, my aspirations. I walk everywhere to save money on bus fares and keep track of how many steps I do.

“One day I had several appointments and by the end of the day had walked 46,000 steps when the average recommended steps are 10,000 a day. My legs were so sore and stiff by the end but I had no choice as I could not afford the bus fares.

“I have no control over the cost of living prices. Life feels hopeless and something drastically needs to change. I don’t want my mental health to get worse or to end up ill in hospital because life is getting so stressful.”

The Kerslake Commission convened in March 2021 to examine the lessons from the public health emergency response to rough sleeping during the pandemic, and to understand how the significant progress made can be embedded in the longer term.

It has previously published two reports one in July 2021 and one in September 2021.

The Commission will publish a second progress report in 2023.