Covid has exposed the cracks in our broken housing system
Millions across the UK spent the last year in cramped rented accommodation, writes Thangham Debbonaire MP. | PA Images
Renters are at the sharp end of this crisis, with many spending lockdown in cramped accommodation and in insecure work. We must protect them from eviction loopholes and potentially falling into homelessness.
Over the last 12 months, the differences in housing have become stark. For those who own a spacious home and enjoy stable work, a year of lockdowns has been difficult but manageable. For some households, the last year has even been an opportunity to save some disposable income for a house move or to make home improvements.
There is however another common story. Millions across the UK spent the last year in cramped rented accommodation. Many in this group have lost work, or their jobs have become less secure, and as a result, the household income never quite pays the bills.
The extent of this second story was laid bare by a new report from the Resolution Foundation, which showed there are now 750,000 households behind on their rent or mortgage. This is an incredible 2.5 times the pre-pandemic level.
Renters have been hit harder with housing costs than any other group. The report found almost a quarter of private renters have seen earnings fall during Covid-19 crisis, compared to one-in-six (16 per cent) working age adults with a mortgage.
Despite this disparity, the renters have struggled to get help. Over the last year, 10% of families with a mortgage have received a mortgage holiday. In contrast, just 3% of private renters and 2% social renters successfully negotiated rent reductions over the pandemic period.
It should be no surprise that millions of renters are struggling.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has repeatedly promised nobody would lose their home because of coronavirus, but the current policy isn’t working.
Many people will have been pushed out of their homes without ever going to court
The rules of the so-called ‘evictions ban’ have changed significantly over the last few months. There are now several loopholes which still allow landlords to kick tenants out, including for rent arrears built up since the start of the pandemic. This is a direct breach of the Housing Secretary’s promise.
As a result, there are growing numbers of eviction proceedings going through the courts, according to data covering the end of last year.
Many people will have been pushed out of their homes without ever going to court. A recent investigation found 70,000 households had become homeless during the pandemic, suggesting many people are being evicted illegally.
When the Covid crisis started a year ago, Labour demanded that the government do more help renters, as it was clear even then that they would be worst affected.
We won some important changes – the government raised the Local Housing Allowance to 30% of average rents, though this does not go far enough. And the evictions ban, in its original form last year, no doubt kept some people in their homes. But we need to go further.
Worrying though the Resolution Foundation numbers are, we are unlikely to have seen the worst of it. Unemployment is expected to surge over the coming months. Labour have calculated that almost 190,000 private renters are likely to lose their jobs over this winter and spring.
We must ensure that this does not lead to a wave in homelessness. There are already a staggering 253,000 people in England homeless and living in temporary accommodation during the pandemic, according to new research by Shelter. And according to official statistics, there are almost 130,000 children in temporary accommodation, almost double what it was a decade ago.
Covid has exposed the cracks in our broken housing system. We urgently need to fix it.
Thangam Debbonaire is the Labour MP for Bristol West and shadow secretary for housing.
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