By Abby Woolford
I recently learned that Reading has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country.
Sadly, learning that one in every 162 households in Reading was homeless during 2016 and 2017 is not surprising to me after the three years that I have spent studying there, and the only form of homelessness that I have witnessed is rough sleeping. This means that there are 407 statutorily homeless households in Reading that I wasn’t aware of.
Rough sleeping is the most noticeable form of homelessness – these are the people who are forced to sleep in shop fronts and alleyways, whilst the statutorily homeless refers to people who are legally entitled to be housed by their local authorities, such as the disabled and pregnant.
I’ll admit that I’ve never considered those who live in temporary accommodation, such as social housing, as homeless, and this is simply because their homelessness is not immediately visible. However, being put up in temporary accommodation does not mean that these people have a home: their residence is insecure and their lives unsettled as a result.
In September 2017, The Independent published an article blaming the Conservatives for this rise in homelessness, stating that the number of rough sleepers in the UK has risen by 134% since the Tories took power in 2010.
Of course, there are many factors that can influence homelessness, and some of these are out of the control of the government (like domestic abuse and family affairs). However, there are also a multitude of reasons as to how the Tories have contributed to this growing problem: benefits have been cut, and rents have increased by three times as much as wages in the South, meaning that many families no longer have a large enough household income to afford their rent payments.
As an eye-opening report by the National Audit Office (NAO) explains: “It appears likely that the decrease in affordability of properties in the private rented sector, of which welfare reforms such as the capping of local housing allowance are an element, have driven this increase in homelessness”.
By enforcing economical savings by restricting local housing allowance, the government have forced families out of their homes, as they can no longer afford to pay rent to their private landlords. However, the government appears ignorant of its damaging impact on the homeless in England and is yet to evaluate the effect of its welfare reforms on homelessness, leaving local councils and charity organisations to solve the problem.
By making changes that would allow councils to build genuinely affordable homes for those on housing benefits, the government could help to prevent such homelessness in the first place.
In a press release by the charity Crisis, it is predicted that rough sleeping is ‘set to rise by three quarters in the next decade’, and without government measures being employed to prevent this tragedy, independent charities such as Crisis will struggle to solve the problem alone.
If you or a loved one is affected by this epidemic, visit www.crisis.org.uk/get-help for information on how Crisis can help you.