Updated: Apr 18, 2021
In a flash, we have already returned to March. A year on, what have been the effects of the pandemic on homelessness? What changes have been made by the Government to combat these effects – and what recent tweaks in legislation may bring any improvements that have been made to a halt?
How big is the impact of the pandemic on homelessness?
The halting of the economy saw thousands of people lose their jobs across the UK. After several nation-wide lockdowns, many small businesses were forced to close, and large corporations closed branches and made many workers redundant. The Office for National Statistics found that between October and December of 2020, around 1.74 million people were unemployed, with the highest figure of unemployment rate in the last 5 years at 5.1%. Helen Dennis, cabinet member for social support and homelessness, reflects on how “we’ve seen people losing their jobs in catering, cleaning, so lots of people who maybe were on low-paid jobs to start with have lost that lifeline and find themselves homeless for the first time.”
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that from January to August 2020, the number of families claiming universal credit increased by 90%, totalling to 4.6 million households. Moreover, The Guardian reports that “more than 70,000 households have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic”, alongside a whopping number of 207,543 households approaching their local councils with concerns over being made homeless between the months of April and November of last year alone.
In an attempt to reduce these worrying numbers whilst also helping those already homeless before the peak of the pandemic, the Government launched the Everyone In Scheme.
What is the Everyone In scheme?
At the end of March last year, The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, along with various charities and organisations such as St Mungo’s, endeavoured to protect the homeless from the spread of Covid-19 by getting rough sleepers off the streets and into hotels, B&Bs and emergency accommodation.
The scheme has helped house approximately 37,000 people since its inception – 29,000 during the first lockdown. This has seen a decline of 37% in the number of rough sleepers in the UK.
However, by the summer, funds of the scheme had run out, and when faced with a second lockdown in November, there was no mention of its re-emergence. Additionally, many were still rough sleeping during the scheme, and many who had previously been in accommodation were forced to become homeless due to behavioural issues, or simply not having the chance to secure a place to say after their temporary residency.
Numbers of homeless reduce, yet homeless deaths increase
The championing of the reduction of rough sleepers has overshadowed the devastating news that in 2020 the number of deaths amongst those who are homeless went up by over a third. Ironically the same figure as the reduction in rough sleepers, homeless deaths went up by 37% in 2020 from 2019. This is thought to be an underestimation, since over a third of London boroughs and the city of Birmingham were excluded from this recording.
However, within this underrepresentation, there are still nearly 1,000 homeless deaths that have been counted – in 2020, 976 unhoused people died, compared to 710 in 2019.
Reports show that only 3% of the deaths were Covid-19 related, which further begs the question – why did the Government let so many homeless people die? Although the Everyone In scheme did make a positive impact, it was not enough.
The Government eviction ban and its recent changes
The Government ban on evictions at the start of the first lockdown was another big help for those at risk of becoming or remaining homeless during the pandemic. During the first March lockdown it was announced that landlords could not evict tenants because of amassed rent arrears between March and September 2020, and could only evict tenants who had amassed a minimum of 9 months of arrears prior to lockdown. They also increased the notice period required of tenants when announcing evictions to 6 months.
87% of councils across the UK believed the eviction ban was a major factor in counteracting the impact of the pandemic on homelessness, but Big Issue reports that “almost all councils also told researchers they expect to see a rise in newly unemployed people being made homeless.”
This rings true now more than ever, as amendments to the eviction ban were made last Friday, on the 26th February, which can be found here. An extension to the bill reduced the number of arrears which qualify for an eviction from 9 to 6 months, and also removed an extension that had been put in place for those who had amassed arrears since the pandemic.
Subsequently, the legislation of the bill is only in place until the 31st of March. The bill states:
“Given that 14 days’ notice is required before an eviction can take place, no evictions are expected before 14 April except in the most serious circumstances.”
This is extremely worrying, and a sure way of causing an increase in the number of rough sleepers, as well as homeless deaths. This follows the investigation of the Government budget by Museum of Homelessness, which uncovered that only £109 million of the £750 million pledged to be invested into rough sleepers was being given in 2021. This adds salt to a sore wound after St Mungo’s analysis found that there had been a “£1bn funding shortfall before the pandemic.”
With Government help slowly relaxing, there is an inevitable fear that one year on, those suffering with homelessness could be worse off than they were in 2020 – if that was even possible.
How can you help?
The risk of multiple evictions occurring once the eviction ban comes to an end means an inevitable surge in homelessness.You can ensure that those who may be facing homelessness will have warm, clean clothes, by donating your winter coats and jumpers to your local charity shops. We have a complete guide on clothing donations that can help you with this.
You can also keep up to date with the latest news on homelessness and the Government’s responses, with threads on reliable news outlets such as the BBC and Big Issue, as well as the government website.
Signing petitions is an important step in getting issues raised in parliament, and is a crucial yet quick task you can do to help fight for the help homeless people need during this ongoing crisis. You could sign one by Shelter, which wants to ensure accommodation during the pandemic, here. You could also help provide free helplines for those in need by signing this petition.
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