The third lockdown has left the UK’s homeless people out in the cold, but what can be done to help?
At the time of writing this article, the UK is three weeks into its third official lockdown, although people in some areas have been facing similar restrictions for a lot longer. There is no end projected to the current lockdown – and while vaccinations are ramping up, it will be a long while before enough people are inoculated and life can return to anything resembling normal.
One of the differences between this lockdown and the first one last spring and summer is the provisions made for homeless people. With no ‘everyone in’ plan, as well as a rise in evictions, there has been a significant rise in homeless numbers.
In this article, we’ll look in more depth at why this has happened. We’ll also make a case for more affordable housing to be made available, so next time something like this happens, homelessness will not be as much of an issue.
A rise in homelessness
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 70,000 households have become homeless. On top of this number, 50,000 more households have the threat of homelessness hanging over them.
This is despite pledges from the UK Government and the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, that ‘no one should lose their home as a result of the Coronavirus’.
These new homeless people add to the already excessive number already living on the streets or in temporary accommodation. In the last lockdown, these people were taken off the streets.
Differences between Lockdowns 3 and 1
The first lockdown almost proved that we could end homelessness in the UK if the political will were there. As the pandemic began in March of 2020, the Government ordered that homeless people be taken off the streets and out of shelters, then rehoused in the hotels and hostels that customers could not stay in.
This was massively beneficial for the homeless people – some used this time to change their lives so they wouldn’t have to eventually go back to the streets. However, possibly the most significant benefit was that it significantly reduced the chance of them contracting Coronavirus. It is estimated that the ‘everyone in’ initiative prevented at least 26,000 infections and 266 deaths.
As well as dealing with the existing homeless population during the first lockdown, the Government also sought to deal with the problem of newly homeless people being created during a pandemic. They introduced measures to stop the courts permitting landlords to evict their rental tenants, except for a small number of specific reasons.
The strange thing is, these rules are still in force, so why are there more than 70,000 new homeless people now we are at Lockdown 3?
Why are homeless people not being looked after?
As with many things, money is the problem here. Funding for ‘everyone in’ was withdrawn as early as June 2020. Instead, the Government transferred money to individual local authorities. It gave them the responsibility for looking after their homeless populations, although they did not specify that they had to spend this money on provisions for the homeless.
Another change in approach is the Government asking local authorities to urge their rough sleepers to register with a GP, so they can get a vaccine over the next few weeks. Rather than put aside money to end homelessness, it seems as if the Government is happy for them to exist, provided they are not spreading Coronavirus amongst themselves and the wider population.
As for evictions, despite the ban, landlords can still put pressure on their tenants to leave before they resort to court action, while others have been made homeless because of relationship breakdowns, domestic abuse or being asked to leave casual accommodation
Why is homelessness still important at this time?
Even almost a year on from the start of the pandemic, Coronavirus is still rife. Infections and deaths are at similar levels to where they were last spring. It’s why we’re all still in lockdown with no end in sight.
Coronavirus is extremely dangerous for homeless people. They are at risk because they cannot social distance on the streets. They are also very unlikely to have access to medical treatment.
They also have worse weather to contend with. It is extremely cold right now, with many areas of the UK under a blanket of snow. It is extremely dangerous to be sleeping on the streets in this weather.
If ever there was a time to get them off the streets, it is now.
We have proved that we can do it, we just need to do it permanently. There just needs to be a long-term strategy to end homelessness. Central to this strategy should be the provision of affordable homes. We need to get homeless people out of temporary accommodation and into permanent homes that they can reasonably afford. The local authority or private rental could provide these homes – and these are homes, not stop-gaps.
Once in a permanent home, these formerly homeless people can start to build a new life. They can find work more easily, access doctors and take their children to school. They have safety and security, but perhaps most fundamentally, they have pride. When you’re homeless, you’re a second-class citizen. When you have a key to your own door, things are better.
Rather than just end provisions for the homeless, we should be trying to build on the excellent work we have done so far and use it as a springboard to end homelessness for good, not just for a few months at a time.
It seems as if looking after the homeless has taken a back seat as the powers that be focus on other matters, such as the economy.
The good thing about affordable housing is that the legislation is already there. There are already affordable homes going on to the market. There just needs to be more of them, with more being built at a faster rate.
We hope that the Government, local authorities, housing associations and the construction industry can work together and grasp this opportunity. It can be done.