By Matt Trinder
THE rising cost of bills coupled with £360 million of rent arrears accrued during the Covid-19 pandemic are on the verge of causing mass homelessness, the Big Issue has warned.
The campaigning magazine said that the toxic mix could force Tory ministers to spend more than £2.6 billion on keeping people off the streets this winter as inflation bites and energy prices climb.
The government spends £9,266 for every person made homeless, whereas the price of early intervention is just £2,263 per person, the Big Issue said.
Launching its Stop Mass Homelessness campaign, it warned of a pending crisis exacerbated by the Tories’ decision to end the £20-per-week uplift in universal credit last month.
Research from Citizens Advice shows that half a million renters have gone into arrears since the first Covid-19 lockdown began in March 2020. A study by the Step Change charity has also revealed that more than 200,000 people fear losing their homes as benefit cuts hit and the cost of living spirals.
Many are now faced with the choice between heating and eating, the Big Issue warned.
The magazine’s founder Lord John Bird said: “These figures are astonishing, but go to show it is critical we act now.
“Not only can we save the government and taxpayer over £2 billion, but we would also be preventing 225,000 people from potentially experiencing the awful mental and physical cost that homelessness brings with it.
“For Covid-19’s legacy to be a mass homelessness crisis would be unforgivable.
“We urge the government to stop mass homelessness and address the £360 million in rent arrears now, or face a homelessness crisis worse than any in living memory.”
The Crisis charity’s chief executive Jon Sparkes said that the figures “must act as a wake-up call for the government.
“Across the country, households continue to feel the financial pressures of the pandemic and are facing the very real possibility of losing their homes.
“While the £65 million package of support for renters announced in recent months is welcome, it falls well short of what is desperately needed to prevent further homelessness.
“If the government is serious about rebuilding the country after the pandemic, a priority must be ensuring that people can remain in their homes, without fear of eviction.”
A statement from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said that ministers “continue to support those most in need and are projected to spend almost £30 billion supporting people with their housing costs in 2021-22.”
The Big Issue’s intervention came as Scottish Labour called for action to tackle rising evictions in social-rented housing, following the end of the ban implemented earlier in the pandemic.
Data from the Scottish Housing Regulator showed that 43 properties were taken by landlords after court decrees for “non-payment of rent” between July and September.
This compared with only four such instances between January and March, when protections against evictions, which ended in May, were fully in place north of the border.
Scottish Labour housing spokesman Mark Griffin said: “It was wildly reckless for the SNP to scrap the evictions ban while the pandemic raged on and tenants had no meaningful support — and now we are seeing the consequences.
“The SNP must act now to stop this spiralling into a full-blown tsunami of evictions.”
A Scottish government spokeswoman said that kicking people out of their homes should be “an absolute last resort.”
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