What causes homelessness
There are many different reasons a person might become homeless. A variety of personal and social factors may contribute to a person becoming homeless, and often homelessness is outside of the control of the people or households concerned.
What is homelessness?
Homelessness is about more than losing a home or having to sleep on the street. People become homeless when they’re unable to find a suitable home without help.
It’s also possible for people to be ‘homeless at home’ if someone’s current home (including social housing) isn’t considered reasonable to occupy. This can be because of severe overcrowding, very poor conditions or because housing doesn’t meet an individual’s needs – for example if it isn’t wheelchair accessible. There are a growing number of families who are ‘homeless at home’ and this number includes people living in social housing.
Why do people become homeless?
Sadly, as long ago as the Tudor Poor Laws, homelessness has been viewed as the result of personal failings rather than a failure of government to ensure that there’s enough affordable, decent housing for everyone. For example, the very first homelessness legislation, which was passed in 1977, described itself as ‘a charter for scroungers and scrimshankers’.
But this just isn’t an accurate story. Many people in Britain, including affluent households, will experience mental and physical ill health, disabilities, problems with alcohol or drug dependency, relationship breakdown or domestic abuse. Not everyone who experiences these problems becomes homeless, but it is both personal and social factors like these that can lead a person into homelessness.
Inequality in action
At its core, homelessness is caused by inequality resulting in people’s inability to compete in the housing market. In England, it’s most prevalent in areas such as London and its commuting region, and other major cities such as Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester.
In these areas, it’s much more difficult for families and individuals with little money to compete with more affluent households for a suitable home. Where housing costs continue to rise, they may still face homelessness even if they increase their income.
A flawed system
Homelessness occurs when people are unable to afford access a suitable home:
People can face a number of barriers when trying to rent a home. This can range from prejudice (such as letting agents refusing to let to people claiming housing benefit) to being unable to afford the costs of renting. These can also often be linked: if housing benefit is unlikely to cover the cost of rent or future rent increases, a landlord may be reluctant to let their property to someone who needs to claim in case they fall into arrears.
High rents make people homeless
Currently, the unaffordability of private renting is a major cause of homelessness. Over one million people currently claim Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and 35% of those people are in work.
LHA is designed to help people with little money to afford market rents. It’s a vital tool in preventing homelessness, but LHA has been frozen since 2016 while rents have increased.
But because of this freeze, there’s now a shortfall between rents and LHA rates in nine out of 10 areas in the country. Shortfalls are large: in one in five areas, families in need of a 2-bedroom home face a shortfall of at least £100pcm. One of the biggest triggers of applications for statutory homelessness assistance is the ending of a private (assured shorthold) tenancy, which can happen as the result of a no-fault eviction (or Section 21 notice).