Sadiq Khan calls for rent freeze as rough sleeping rises by a fifth in London

Mayor demands government action including end to benefit cap and more resources for councils as cost of living crisis bites

New warnings have emerged over a significant increase in rough sleeping in London, amid concerns that the cost of living crisis is forcing more people on to the streets and hindering the services trying to help them.

The numbers sleeping rough in the capital have increased by 21% on a year ago. London mayor Sadiq Khan said that without government intervention, the progress made in sheltering people since the Covid-19 pandemic would be reversed.

Between April and September this year, 5,712 people were seen sleeping rough in the capital, according to the Combined Homelessness and Information Network. The rise came despite a record number of people being found shelter.

London has always been the main location for rough sleeping, but other cities have reported similar issues. In Greater Manchester, there were 223 employed people referred to its “A Bed Every Night” scheme for emergency accommodation from January to September, suggesting cost of living issues are hitting those in work.

Charities in London and beyond are pointing to problems that have not been resolved by the government’s energy price guarantee. Inflation hit 10% in July, while the cost of renting has also risen dramatically. Annual London rental inflation had risen to almost 18% by July.It is the latest sign of a crisis that was raging even before the botched mini-budget that increased mortgage costs and ensured Liz Truss became Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister in history. Earlier this month, thousands of food bank volunteers warned her that they were having to ration provisions as their services had become “overstretched and exhausted” because of an influx of people needing help.

Rick Henderson, of Homeless Link, the national membership charity for frontline homelessness organisations in England, said homeless services need to be funded in line with inflation to cope with increasing demand.

Rebecca Sycamore, the interim chief executive of the St Mungo’s charity, said they were seeing “the very real and very harsh reality of this financial crisis”. She added: “With more price increases it is very likely many of those currently just scraping by will no longer be able to manage, and could be at real risk of losing their homes and experiencing a very harsh winter. Action is needed now.”

Khan called for an immediate freeze on private sector rents, the lifting of the benefit cap and the unfreezing of housing benefits and more resources for local councils to support those sleeping on the streets.

“Our outreach workers, charity teams, healthcare professionals and council staff are not only vital partners in this work but unsung heroes,” he said. “Despite this progress, extraordinary financial pressures are putting the poorest Londoners at growing risk of homelessness with the number of people sleeping rough already up by a fifth year on year.

“We continue to see a revolving door of people ending up homeless as a result of this escalating cost of living crisis. This cannot be allowed to continue. This new government must act now to prevent the circumstances that lead to people sleeping rough before thousands more are forced to face a winter on the streets.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “This government is providing £2bn over the next three years to tackle homelessness and end rough sleeping. The latest official rough sleeping statistics show that rough sleeping has fallen to an 8-year low and has almost halved since 2017.

“We are also supporting London boroughs and the GLA with up to £172m from the Rough Sleeping Initiative, which will provide thousands of beds and help individuals find work, manage their finances and access mental and physical health services.”

• This article was amended on 1 November 2022 to include a response from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities that was received after publication.


Michael Savage Policy Editor

The GuardianTramp

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