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Why Is There Homelessness In The UK?

Jun 8, 2022
3 min read
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Homelessness has a devastating impact on individuals and families. It can lead to poor mental and physical health problems, and people experiencing homelessness have a greatly increased risk of dying prematurely.

Crisis estimates that over 225,000 people experienced the worst forms of rough sleeping in 2021, including rough sleeping, living in B&Bs and sleeping in sheds and vans. 

There is no single cause of homelessness. Instead, there are many factors that may lead to a person becoming homeless.

  1. Systemic problems

The root causes of homelessness are often due to systemic issues in our society. Policies that have been taken, or not taken, have profound impacts on our society, especially the most vulnerable:

  1. Lack of social housing

The number of new homes built each year has failed to keep pace with demand since the 1950s. In England and Wales alone, there are more than 1 million households on waiting lists for social housing. The lack of affordable housing is one reason why homelessness is increasing in many areas across the UK.

  1. Unemployment

Over the last few years, there has been a rise in unemployment due to the economic downturn. This has led to an increase in homelessness among those who were already struggling financially before they lost their job.

  1. Low incomes

Many people who become homeless have low incomes and struggle to pay rent or mortgage payments. This can be caused by unemployment or disability, which makes it difficult for them to find a job that pays well enough for them to afford their home costs.

Other reasons include low wages, benefit sanctions and financial difficulties such as debt or debt arrears (when you owe money).

  1. Poverty traps

If you’re homeless, it can be very difficult to get back on your feet because you have no stable home address or permanent job history – both of which can affect your chances of getting another job or renting somewhere else.

  1. Inequality

Inequality is the root cause of homelessness. The gap between rich and poor has widened in recent years, with more than half of all wealth now owned by the richest 1% of households. Homelessness is often a direct result of this inequality.

As people fall out of work due to low pay or insecure employment, they often find themselves unable to afford the high cost of private rented sector.

  1. Welfare and income policies 

Changes to welfare payments since 2010 have had a major impact on homelessness across the UK.

The Housing Benefit freeze and changes to Local Housing Allowance (LHA) mean that many low-income households are unable to afford the cost of private rents.

This is why we've seen such a significant increase in rough sleeping over this period, as well as significant increases in temporary accommodation placements. At the same time, Universal Credit has been introduced which has made it harder for people to access support if they're struggling financially.

  1. Personal circumstances

While systemic problems create the opportunity for homelessness to exist, it is often a single or series of personal life events that push an individual into homelessness:

  1. Job loss

If you lose your job, you may not be able to pay your rent or mortgage anymore. You may also struggle to find another job if you have an illness or disability.

  1. Bereavement

If someone dies and they were supporting you financially, it may mean that you no longer have enough money to pay the rent or mortgage on your home.

  1. End of a relationship or family breakdown

If someone leaves the home after a relationship breakdown, it can mean that there is one less person in the house earning money and therefore paying rent or mortgage payments.

  1. Unsupported mental health problems

People with mental health problems can struggle to stay at work and keep up with their rent or mortgage payments as well as living costs like food and bills.

Mental health problems can also make it difficult for someone to apply for jobs so they can get back on their feet financially again.

  1. Cost of rent

Rents have been increasing over recent years due to a lack of affordable housing stock combined with low interest.

  1. Addiction

Drugs and alcohol can be a big factor in causing homelessness, but they don't cause it on their own. Some people who become homeless have histories of substance misuse, but others find themselves homeless after becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol as a result of their situation.

  1. Sexual or physical abuse. 

Being abused in childhood can lead to problems later in life, including mental health issues and homelessness. Some people become homeless because they have experienced abuse as adults, including sexual assault and domestic violence.

  1. Loss or change in welfare.

Local authorities have struggled since the closure of local hostels increased the number of people sleeping rough in London by 40% between 2016 and 2018 alone, according to research by Centrepoint.

This trend is also linked to cuts to housing benefits; when people lose their homes because of these changes, they may find themselves with nowhere else to go but the street or hostel waiting lists (which can be years long).

  1. Criminal behaviour 

Some people become homeless after an interaction with the justice system when they leave prison. This may or not be their fault, but is often caused or exacerbated by other systemic issues like racism and poverty.

Final Thoughts

There are of course many other possible causes of homelessness than those mentioned above. The government has launched the Homelessness Reduction Act and the Sleeping Rough Strategy which you can find out more about here.

However, more needs to be done. To help us in our fight to end homelessness and help people back to a stable homes, please donate to Greater Change here. Just £3 a month can change a life.

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