LONDON, UK – AUGUST 17: A view of a sign to rent houses as housing prices increased %1,7 annually and rental house prices increase %5,3 in July in London, United Kingdom on August 17, 2023. With %5,5 increase in housing prices; London, Yorkshire, West Mindlands and Humber are the most expensive regions in the UK. Rasid Necati Aslim / Anadolu Agency (Photo by Rasid Necati Aslim / ANADOLU AGENCY / Anadolu Agency via AFP)
(AFP) – The UK government is facing a backlash after a senior minister said some people were homeless out of choice, and as one charity said its distribution of emergency food aid has hit record levels.
A cost-of-living crisis in the G7 nation and the world’s sixth-biggest economy, fuelled by high inflation, has left many Britons struggling to make ends meet, as bills for food, energy, rent and mortgages increase.
But Home Secretary Suella Braverman sparked outrage and claims of being tone deaf to the issue, after saying she wanted to stop homeless people pitching tents on public streets.
“We cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has since appeared to distance himself from his hardline interior minister, while other colleagues condemned her language.
According to government figures published in October, 104,510 households were in temporary accommodation in England in the year to March 2023 — up 10 percent on the same time in 2022 and the highest since records began in 1998.
A report on homelessness by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh said 290,000 eligible households nationwide sought help from local authorities for homelessness between 2021 and 2022.
Figures released in August by the London Assembly, meanwhile, recorded 3,272 people sleeping rough in the British capital between April and June 2023 — nearly half of them on the streets for the first time.
– Emergency –
The homeless charity Crisis blamed a lack of “affordable homes” for fuelling homelessness, and said even more people would be destitute if they were not provided with tents.
“Laying blame with people forced to sleep rough will only push people further away from help into poverty, putting them at risk of exploitation,” it wrote in an open letter to the government.
“At the extreme end we will see an increase in deaths and fatalities which are totally preventable.”
The government has repeatedly vowed to end so-called no-fault evictions, in which landlords can force out tenants from rental properties without giving a reason.
No-fault evictions have surged, as landlords who bought cheap buy-to-let properties when mortgage rates were low are selling up as their repayments become more costly.
That has had a damaging knock-on effect on rental stock, despite persistent demand, pushing up prices for those properties still available for let, often beyond many tenants’ means.
Polly Neate, chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said ministers had failed to grasp the scale of the housing emergency.
“Decades of inaction has left us with runaway rents, rising evictions and record levels of homelessness and ministers are blaming everyone but themselves,” she said.
She called for more social housing to be built and more affordable private rental accommodation.
– Unprecedented –
Meanwhile the Trussell Trust, the UK‘s largest food bank network, said on Wednesday that the number of food parcel handouts has risen to unprecedented levels.
It said it had provided 1.5 million emergency food parcels to people between April and September 2023 — a 16 percent increase on 2022 and the most it has ever distributed at this point in the year.
“A range of people are coming for food parcels and about 65 percent of those coming are parents, with children, who are struggling to pay the bills,” Helen Barnard, the head of policy and research at the trust, which runs 1,400 food banks, told AFP.
“This is the highest number of food parcel handouts we have had to give in a six-month period. We are expecting this to be our worst winter ever.”
Inflation is coming down from a 41-year peak of 11.1 percent in October 2022 to 6.7 percent in September — the highest of any G7 nation.
But charities believe a range of factors, notably cuts to welfare payments in the last decade and the housing shortage, has exacerbated food poverty and homelessness.
“Many people are using money they would normally spend on food to pay their rent and avoid eviction,” said Barnard.
“Ten years ago there were hardly any food banks in the UK. Today a generation of children is growing up believing that it’s normal to have a food bank in every community.”
© Agence France-Presse