Homelessness rise likely to be down to welfare reforms

The number of homeless families in the UK has risen by more than 60 per cent and is ‘likely to have been driven by welfare reforms’, the public spending watchdog has said.

Homelessness has increased over the last six years, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said.

It accused the government of using a ‘light touch approach’ to tackle the problem.

The government said it was investing £550 million by 2020 to address the issue.

There has been a 60 per cent rise in temporary accommodation since 2010/11, the NAO said. This includes 120,540 children.

NAO found that there were 4,134 rough sleepers last autumn - an increase of 134 per cent since the Conservatives came into government, it said.

A report by the watchdog found rents in England have also increased as households have seen a cut to some benefits.

Homelessness costs more than £1 billion a year to deal with it said.

The report said reforms to the local housing allowance are ‘likely to have contributed’ to making it more expensive for claimants to rent privately and ‘are an element of the increase in homelessness’.

Welfare reforms announced in 2015 by the government include a four-year freeze to housing benefit.

Amya’s Morse, auditor general, said the Department for Work and Pensions had failed to evaluate the impact of the benefit changes on homelessness.

Morse said: “It is difficult to understand why the department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem.

"Its recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money."

The NAO said that the ending of private sector tenancies has become the main cause of homelessness in England with numbers tripling since 2010/11.

Its analysis found private sector rents in England have gone up by three times as much as wages since 2010, apart from in the north and East Midlands.

While in London, costs have risen by 24 per cent, which is eight times the average wage increase.

Councils spent £1.1 billion on homelessness in 2015/16, with £845 million going to pay for temporary accommodation, the NAO said.

It found that local authorities in London have been buying properties outside the capital to house people.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said: “It is a national scandal that more and more people are made homeless every year.

"This reports illustrates the very real human cost of the government's failure to ensure people have access to affordable housing.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said local authorities were having to house ‘the equivalent of an extra secondary school's worth of homeless children in temporary accommodation every month’.

It said: “The net cost to councils of doing this has tripled in the last three years, as they plug the gap between rising rents and frozen housing benefit."

It called on government to support councils by allowing them to invest in building affordable homes and ‘provide the support and resources they need to help prevent people becoming homeless in the first place’.

A government spokesperson said: “Our welfare reforms restore fairness to the system with a strong safety net in place to support the most vulnerable, including £24 billion through the housing benefit.

"There's more to do to make sure people always have a roof over their head and ministers will set out further plans shortly, including delivering on our commitment to eliminate rough sleeping entirely."

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