Three in four people agree housing benefit should increase in line with rents

Sorana Vieru, Senior Campaigns Officer

Today is World Homeless Day – a day to raise awareness of the global issue of homelessness, and the solutions to end it once and for all. We know that homelessness is not inevitable. In most cases, it is preventable, and in every case, it can be ended with the right policies and a robust welfare system in place.

As we have learnt from homelessness in other countries, housing benefit is a critical part of welfare support that helps people keep their homes. 

But here in the UK, housing benefit is falling far short of offering this support.

That’s because after successive cuts over years and a four-year freeze from 2016 to housing benefit, it’s simply not keeping up with rising rents in most of the country. This is leaving thousands of people trapped in impossible situations where they are unable to cover the cost of essentials and pay their rent, often going without heating or skipping meals just to keep a roof over their heads. And when the pressure from rising rents and low incomes becomes too much, people lose their homes.

We are calling on Government to invest in housing benefit so that people can at least afford the cheapest third of local rents.

Just this week, the National Housing Federation published research revealing that the housing benefit freeze is pushing low income families to the brink, with more than nine in ten homes for private rent (94 per cent) too expensive for those on housing benefit. Two-thirds of these families (65 per cent) are in work.

Worryingly, they also found that the number of children in temporary accommodation has increased by 83 per cent since 2011 to 126,020.

This means children are living in hostel rooms with no desks to do their homework, unable to focus as their lunch was noodles cooked in a kettle, not resting well as they’re forced to squeeze into bunk beds with their siblings.

No one should live like this when we have practical tools at our disposal to prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place.

Housing benefit is the quickest and most effective way to prevent homelessness in the short term, but it is fundamentally flawed because of severe underinvestment. Investing back into it so that it does the job it was designed to do is a popular measure.

Public polling by Crisis & the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published today[1] reveals that 76% of people think that housing benefit is a practical way for the Government to stop people experiencing homelessness in the first place. 

With Crisis and National Housing Federation research showing we need 90,000 social homes per year for the next 15 years just to meet current demand. With just under 7,000 homes for social rent built last year, we cannot afford to wait and must take action to provide stability to the households on the brink of homelessness before it’s too late.

This is why Crisis, together with a coalition of housing and local government organisations have been calling for housing benefit levels to be restored in line with rents – and I’m glad that 3 in 4 members of the public agree.

This World Homeless Day, I share my hope that Government will listen and invest back in housing benefit so that it covers the cost of renting and secure the future that all children and families deserve.

Join the campaign at: www.crisis.org.uk/coverthecost

[1] Crisis and The Joseph Rowntree Foundation commissioned Public First to conduct a poll of 4,010 adults (aged 18+) in the UK. Fieldwork was undertaken 6-10 September 2019, online.

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