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9th July 2024

In last Thursday’s general election 411 Labour MPs were elected to the House of Commons – enough to form a new government with Keir Starmer as Prime Minister. The new Parliament sat for the first time today, and the election for Speaker of the House took place.

There is no shying away from this fact: the government faces a disastrous situation with regards to housing and homelessness. Rents continue to skyrocket and there is nowhere near enough social housing to meet the need. Record numbers of people, including hundreds of thousands of children, are living in temporary accommodation with no security, costing councils billions and contributing to huge numbers of other problems further down the line.

Things are at their worst here in London, where the latest data showed rough sleeping at the highest levels since records began more than a decade ago. 

Through our front-line work, we gather data and insights, spotlighting the greatest problems in London, which give us an indication of what can be done to improve the lives of our guests. Based on this, there are three areas we highlighted in the leadup to the election that are where the new government should focus to bring homelessness numbers down. 

The broken Private Rented Sector 

Private renters in the UK are in an incredibly difficult position right now, paying shockingly high and unaffordable rents for accommodation that is often of poor quality, and with no security in their homes. The flow of people from the Private Rented Sector into homelessness is huge, either because they cannot keep up with escalating rents or because they are evicted. 

Section 21 no-fault evictions, which allow tenants to be kicked out of their homes with no reason provided and with just two months of notice, are a leading cause of homelessness. They also contribute to the problem of poor-quality housing, since lots of renters are afraid to complain about conditions in case this leads to them being evicted.

There is also the growing problem of illegal evictions, which often lead directly to homelessness. Too often, criminal landlords are emboldened by the fact that they do not experience any repercussions for illegally kicking people out of their homes. The new government should make it a priority to push forwards legislation to abolish Section 21 and crack down on illegal evictions by properly resourcing local authorities’ enforcement teams as soon as possible. 

Homelessness among under-35s 

In recent years we’ve seen a steady increase in the proportion of people coming to our caseworkers for support who are under the age of 35. In 2020-2021 it was 18%, rising to 22% in 2022-23 and to 31% in 2023-24. Our data shows that among the under-35s who we support, rough sleeping is more common than among other age groups, and our caseworkers have reported seeing many under-35s in particularly desperate situations. 

There are several factors that contribute to this being the case, one of the most significant being how most under-35s are given a lower rate of housing benefits – the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR). Combined with a difficult housing situation for all groups, this has led to many vulnerable or low-income under-35s having a very difficult time finding accommodation that they can afford. You can read more about how the SAR works and why it is so harmful here: https://www.glassdoor.org.uk/blog/slipping-through-the-net 

We need the new government to take action or the environment for under-35s will only continue to get worse.

Abolishing the SAR, or otherwise reforming the housing benefits structure so that under-35s are not as disadvantaged, would make a significant difference. 

Women’s homelessness 

There is increasing evidence that women make up a greater proportion of people experiencing homelessness than has traditionally been assumed. In recent years, close to 30% of people that our caseworkers support have been women, much more than most official counts would indicate. 

The Women’s Rough Sleeping Census is a project that has done a great deal to back up what front-line services have seen with solid data and to improve our understanding of women’s experiences. The census ran for the first time in London in 2022, finding that women might be under-counted in rough sleeping statistics partly because the assumptions behind the stats are based on how men behave when sleeping rough. Because of the threat of violence and assault, women with nowhere else to go are much more likely to find a secluded spot to sleep, meaning outreach teams are less likely to see them. The second rough sleeping census in 2023, which was England-wide, added further evidence supporting this. 

At Glass Door, all our services are gender-informed, and we regularly update or add elements to help us support women more effectively. In our 2022-2023 night shelter season, there were more women referred to our shelters than were expected, and we were not able to offer a place to sleep to as many of them as we would have liked. Our response to this was to run a dedicated women’s shelter (alongside a men’s one and mixed-gender one) the following year, significantly boosting the number of spaces for women. 

We also ran a women’s drop-in casework service alongside the shelter, which made it easier for the women staying in our shelters to engage with our caseworkers and build their route out of homelessness. 62% of the women who were referred to our shelters expressed a preference for a single-gender space when given the option, and we were able to give 226 women a safe place to stay. Based on this, we will run the men’s, women’s and mixed-gender shelters again next winter. 

We strongly believe that if the government it is serious about tackling homelessness in all its forms, it should adopt a gender-informed approach.

Following the most recent Women’s Census, we were signatories to a letter organised by Solace and Single Homeless Project calling homelessness policies to be gender-informed, for the government to resource and lead the census going forwards and for an equalities impact assessment on all rough sleeping data.

Homelessness will continue to climb unless drastic action is taken. The scale of the crisis and the need for a serious response cannot be overstated. Our message to the government is that tinkering around the edges is simply not enough to meet the challenge that we face right now.