Government must step in to prevent a Covid induced mass homelessness crisis
The enormous amount of prospective homeless people and families dwarfs any other emergency that homeless advocates like me have ever seen before. Government must reinstate the eviction ban.
Homelessness could come to a home near you if we don’t respond effectively to the threats created by Covid-19 induced poverty.
The pandemic threw up novel ways of dealing with the business and social crisis. It motivated the Treasury to spend colossal amounts of money on the emergency. It was impressive to see a government who might have been tempted to take the austerity road to actually invest in alleviating crisis.
Alas the work is still unfinished. For waiting offstage is a very large contingent of people who could be made homeless, due to the loss of livelihood.
In spite of the governments eviction ban that has just run out, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reports circa 400,000 renters have had eviction notices served, or told to expect them. Around a million tenants fear evictions. This enormous amount of prospective homeless people and families dwarfs any other emergency that homeless advocates like me have ever seen before.
The Treasury has to move their thinking from emergency to recovery
This is mass homelessness from people who have often never been anywhere within the vicinity of need and a life of temporary accommodation. This is children separated from security and placed in a world of unsettling temporariness. This is frightening; and I am frightened.
What we have to try to achieve is ensure the government offers the support necessary to head off this mass impoverishment. To do this the Treasury has to move their thinking from emergency to recovery.
The important thing is to keep people in their homes. This is a cost saving exercise for the government; slipping into homelessness often doubles the cost to the Treasury. It would put untold strain on our stretched and recovering schooling system. It would exacerbate problems created by Covid in our health service, increasing the mental and physical problems thrown up by homelessness.
It will place untold pressures on our Justice system as the gel of family life and security is removed. An internal refugee’ism will become the norm. Our streets will fill up again as they did in the early 1990’s with thousands of young and not so young people dispossessed of their chance to have a life.
If the Treasury does not grab this particular nettle it will eventually bring permanent instability into the lives of a vast army of formerly working, earning, tax-paying individuals.
What can the government do to end this threat to a large contingent of renters and mortagees?
They can reinstate the eviction ban for people who have been made Covid created umemployed. Pay the rent or mortgage of this new group of the unemployed until they get out of the emergency. Pay off the rent arrears so that we don’t have impoverished landlords, most of them small providers. Create new jobs and skills that will enable people to move back into work. Invest in ensuring that new areas of the economy, like Green Jobs, digital and financial services are allocated for people desiring to return to work.
This is a great challenge that the government has partially responded to. All the advocates who have worked in homelessness are united in saying that an increase in homelessness would be catastrophic to children, parents, individuals and would destroy any advantages the government has inaugurated around ‘levelling up’ and ‘bounce back better’.
This is not an easy ask. But it is soundly based on the concept of cost savings, ‘spend to save’ thinking.
Coming out of the shadows of Covid must be done by placing a fence at the top of the cliff and not an ambulance at the bottom.
Lord Bird is a crossbench member of the House of Lords and co-founder of The Big Issue.