Over the past five years, there has been a huge surge in the number of families living in temporary accommodation. Nationally, there has been a 203% rise, but in London the rise has been even sharper. In the borough of Southwark, there has been a 1500% rise over the last five years. It is illegal for these families to be in temporary accommodation for longer than six weeks, but many are left there for months on end.
Although these figures are clearly high, it is likely that the true figures are much higher. Councils are finding loopholes in the system to inaccurately record homeless families. This is the crux of the story, not only has there been a huge rise in the number of homeless families in London, but the figures are hidden and much higher than people realise. This has received very little press attention, if any.
We spoke to several housing organisations and London Assembly member who said that the benefit cap was to blame for this rise. With London’s uniquely high cost of living, many families are simply not coping.
Many councils are moving homeless families outside of London, to as far afield as Scotland. Not only has this move been labelled “social cleansing” by many groups, but it also removes the most vulnerable from their support networks. 65% of those living in temporary accommodation were single parents, and 95% had children. For these people, local support networks of friends and family are vital.
However, the benefit cap is set to be further lowered to £23,000. Every housing expert we spoke to told me that this would inevitably lead to an increase in homelessness. For example, Joanna Kennedy, a spokesperson for housing charity Zaccheus 2000, described the benefit cap as “social cleansing” and a policy that “penalises Londoners”.
No alternative is being offered to this situation. Labour supported the benefit cap and support reducing it to £23,000. The cap has the support of over 70% of the public. Furthermore, there is just not enough social housing in London to house these families, a situation that looks like it will worsen if the right to buy scheme is expanded.
Ultimately, it is clear that a form of social cleansing is taking place in the capital. The most vulnerable are being priced out of the city and their needs are being ignored by government. To add to this, their needs are being ignored by the general public who endorse the policies that cause these families’ suffering.