The statistics show that this second wave of Covid-19 in the UK has been significantly worse than the first, with the UK now having an unfortunate “world-beating” death rate from Covid-19, now reported to be worse than that of any country in the world.
The new lockdown therefore has been entirely necessary, however, what of people experiencing homelessness this time around?
At the beginning of the pandemic, the “Everyone In” housing policy helped house roughly 15,000 people. This policy required Councils to provide accommodation to all street homeless individuals in their area as soon as possible. Coupled with a ban on evictions in England and, in due course, making sure Landlords were required to extend the notice period to tenants to 6 months ensured some protection for the most vulnerable renters who may have been furloughed, lost jobs or unwell and so at risk of eviction as a result of being unable to pay rent.
£700m of funding for this scheme had been provided since March 2020. The policy continued and helped a number of people however, it started to crumble in some areas in England from May 2020 onwards. Whilst social housing providers and homelessness charities worked closely with Liverpool City Council for example, to continue providing places for over 200 people to stay, the government quietly pulled the plug on funding for other areas in England in August 2020.
The statistics indicate that between March 2020 and May 2020, 15,000 people were placed into emergency accommodation during the initial part of the first lockdown. By the end, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MMHCLG) indicated that approximately 29,000 people were helped.
Now the government has been slow to kickstart the initiative in spite of the return of stricter restrictions and winter temperatures.
Communities secretary, Robert Jenrick recently announced that councils will collectively receive an additional £10m funding to help efforts to accommodate rough sleepers across England. It should be noted that this was only announced after the lockdown started and only after much pressure from various sources including Homeless Link, Shelter and Crisis.
This funding forms part of a 2-pronged approach:
- A commitment to getting everyone into safe accommodation
- Ensuring rough sleepers are registered with a GP in order for them to access the COVID-19 vaccine (rough sleepers have been identified as a priority group by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, JCVI)
Whilst the move has been welcomed by many including Crisis and St Mungo’s, the question remains: will this be enough?
The Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) has indicated that rough sleeping in London has increased by 21% in 2020. With the cold weather funding nowhere near what is was pre-pandemic, Centrepoint have commented that more needs to be done to keep the increased number of rough sleepers safe over the coming months.
For instance, this funding will not be available to people who have no recourse to public funding (NRPF). It is vital that Everyone In really does mean everyone and therefore it is important to include in the new rough sleeping protections, all individuals no matter their immigration status, identity or situation.
Worryingly, as many as 840,000 households have now fallen behind on rent since March 2020. With little support, this debt will likely worsen and the prospect of homelessness becoming even more real for these renters. The London Renters Union have urged measures to cancel rent debt. Without this, the numbers of homeless household is only going to increase whether now or in a few months’ time.
Therefore, it is clear that more is needed and for the next phase of the Everybody In initiative to be properly implemented along with sufficient funding to ensure this can happen. We may be past the dropping temperatures however with new, highly infectious variants of the virus, this means that, as a minimum, emergency accommodation is needed for people to safely isolate, protect their health and reduce the transmission. This includes individual washing facilities and access to the vaccine.
With this in mind, it is unclear how £10m will cover all of the above-highlighted issues. It has become obvious during this pandemic that lip service and inadequate pledges of funding from this current government are not enough to solve the short-term and long-term housing issues.
Some have also suggested that a holistic approach is needed to tackle homelessness: councils, charities, health and care services and accommodation providers need to work together to protect rough sleepers. It may be that the way to tackle homelessness is to provide proper protection from eviction, provide support with paying the rent, stop cuts to benefits, build social housing etc. – We hope this government might listen and consider implementing this advice.
The COVID-19 pandemic has sadly highlighted the very real health and socio-economic inequalities in our society and it is now clear that the pre-pandemic attitudes and policies cannot and must not continue when we emerge post-pandemic.