September 19, 2019 / 12:02 AM / 2 months ago

Millions in England one pay cheque away from homelessness

LONDON, Sept 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Almost three million people in England are one pay cheque away from losing their homes because they cannot pay the rent, housing charity Shelter said on Thursday.

Just under half of working people living in privately rented homes in England would be unable to afford rent for more than a month if they lost their job, the charity said in a new report.

“I work two jobs, but I’m still in a precarious position. If for some reason I lost my job, I worry how quickly we’d end up homeless,” Zoe, a 44-year-old single mother, told Shelter.

“I know it’s the same for thousands of other people like me - when you scratch the surface so many people are living month to month.”

The charity found the situation was particularly bleak for working families with children, and called for more affordable social housing as an alternative to private renting.

A report by the Children’s Commissioner for England in August found thousands of homeless children were being forced to sleep in converted shipping containers and guesthouses, in often dangerous environments.

“Millions of working people are now caught in an endless cycle of paying grossly expensive private rents they can barely afford – with all the insecurity that brings,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, in a statement.

“Many are terrified that even a short-term dip in income could result in them losing their home for good.”

Homelessness has been increasing in England for nearly a decade amid rising private rents, a freeze on welfare benefits and a shortage of social housing.

Official figures released by the government this month showed that 84,740 households were living in temporary accommodation in England, such as hostels and shelters, as at the end of March 2019 - the highest figure since 2007.

The introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act in 2018, which increased the obligations of local authorities, had prevented some 58,290 households from becoming homeless in the last year, according to the government.

The government also said it had committed over 400 million pounds ($500 million) to help reduce homelessness and rough sleeping – along with pledging to deliver an additional 250,000 affordable homes by March 2022.

“Our reforms have increased the amount of social housing stock by 79,000 since 2010,” Britain’s housing minister Esther McVey told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.

“We’re committed to building the homes this country needs.”

Most European countries have also seen a rise in homelessness in the past decade, fuelled by fallout from the global financial crisis and an influx of migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

“(This study) provides yet further evidence that our housing market is simply not working for many people,” Darren Baxter, housing policy manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an anti-poverty charity, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“For those on low incomes, the high cost of rents coupled with low pay is seriously constraining their ability to save for difficult times.” ($1 = 0.8010 pounds) (Reporting by Adela Suliman; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org for more stories.)

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