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The Rise and Rise of the Homeless

An aspect to the Covid-19 pandemic that seems to have escaped the attention of almost everybody are the problems surrounding those who rent their homes. Ruby Lott-Lavigna spotlighted this in a recent article for Vice Media:

Left - Be they a terrace or detached, in cities or a rural setting, larger homes are a dream for ordinary people

(Simon Carey)

‘One in five tenants who have struggled to pay their rent during the pandemic have been told to leave their home, given a rent increase or threatened with eviction, according to a new survey from renting campaign group Generation Rent. According to a survey of 1,064 private renters, the majority of those struggling with the cost of rent have also struggled to find a suitable place to move to. Fifty-nine percent of struggling tenants looking for a new home have difficulty finding an affordable place or a landlord who will accept them, according to the survey. Forty-nine percent of renters who responded said they had lost income since March.

These findings are particularly striking, as they come days before a ban on evictions is set to lift. During the pandemic, landlords were delayed from evicting tenants after Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick introduced protection for tenants struggling to pay rent. However, this evictions hiatus is set to end on September 20 (extended from August 23), when courts will be inundated with thousands of delayed eviction hearings. With so many unable to obtain suitable accommodation while also struggling to pay rent, Generation Rent warns this could cause a spike in homelessness.

Even those who have been able to pay rent during the pandemic have faced evictions, according to the survey. One in eight private renters was facing eviction, despite having no problems paying their rent. One in six renters said this was due to the landlord selling the property, part of a large spike in housing sales thanks to a Stamp Duty holiday introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak.

The survey also highlights the failures of the housing benefits system. Only 18 percent of renters who had applied for housing benefits since the beginning of March said they had been able to pay their rent in full. Fifty-nine percent of private renters on housing benefits before the pandemic said they were able to pay their full rent, pointing to a highly flawed welfare system that fails to provide enough money to live on.

Caitlin Wilkinson, policy manager at Generation Rent, told VICE News: “These figures show that renters are already being asked to leave their homes by their landlord due to the pandemic. Upfront costs, sky-high rents and a lack of suitable properties mean that many will be left with nowhere to go.”

“The government is failing renters – not only are they forcing people to move in an ongoing public health crisis, but they’ve failed to ensure the safety net covers people’s housing costs,” she continued. “The Scottish and Welsh Governments have already taken steps to extend protections, and only the English government is ploughing ahead with evictions next week. Generation Rent is calling on the government to urgently introduce new protections against evictions to ensure that renters who have lost income due to the pandemic do not become homeless this winter.”’

© Ruby Lott-Lavigna / Vice Media Group 2020

KJM Today Opinion

Kevan James

The Covid-19 Pandemic has graphically exposed a number of aspects to life in the UK today. One of them is the inadequacy of modern-day politicians, none of whom seem to live on the same world, in the same country and indeed, do not live the same lives as the people they purport to lead. That last point is self-evident as, once elected a Member of Parliament to the UK House of Commons (an MP), life changes immediately and immeasurably for the lucky individual elevated to the position (not least the generous salary paid for by the taxes of ordinary people). It is however, where these MPs come from that is the key.

Left - ordinary terrace houses, meant for average working class people can now cost up to a million pounds in London and half that in other areas of the south of England

(Dave Eagle)

Few have led the lives of those they supposedly represent. Many tout themselves from constituency to constituency, up and down the country until finally finding one that is willing to select them. There are even a number of MPs that have lost their seat at a general election, then re-appeared at another constituency at the other end of the country in time for the next election and being elected.

On top of that there are a huge number who have never actually had a real job, earning the real average wage before going into politics. They enter parliament after university and a usually short spell as an assistant or researcher to an existing MP before becoming one themselves. In their early twenties, they then become career politicians, never doing anything else for some forty to fifty years. Small wonder then, that most have not the first idea of real life.

The career MP will spend his or her time repetitively spouting the party line and rarely offering any commentary of actual value; one example is the National Health Service, the NHS. All MPs will tell you they are ‘for’ it and will never do anything to it. That it has problems has never actually been in doubt by anybody yet the career politician’s only solution is to throw endlessly enormous amounts of taxpayer’s cash at it while doing nothing to address its issues. Yet the Covid-19 pandemic has brutally revealed the NHS to be a scandalously mismanaged and failing organisation that does as little as possible to heal the sick.

Another aspect of life is the most basic – having somewhere to live. When the Cameron/Osborne era began in 2010, there is again little doubt that the benefits system had been allowed to run out of control by the Blair/Brown government of 1997/2010. Yet even Gordon Brown had talked of doing something to reform the housing benefit system. The reason was simple; the cost was spiralling to the point of absurdity. One little-known fact of housing benefit is that it was introduced by the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher, as it was recognised that the cost of having a home was rising beyond the ability of people to pay for it, and that was in 1982 – nearly four decades ago.

The cost question remains today and the introduction of the benefits cap by then-Chancellor George Osborne made things worse by some distance. The benefits cap is still in place, even allowing for current Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spending on Covid-19 measures. But despite housing benefit being reformed almost out of existence by the Conservatives in an effort to control what is a mind-blowing part of government expenditure, and the temporary ban on evictions, no government has actually done anything to address the real problem; what it costs to have somewhere to live. Without a secure, stable roof over one’s head, one has nothing.

Ordinary family homes are increasingly beyond reach of ordinary families

(Keith Evans)

An estate agent once told me that the ever-rising cost of buying your own home was due to demand. With more buyers than homes for sale, the price goes up. Another agent said that in periods when buying demand was low (there are always such periods and they are not infrequent) rents go up – but they never go down when buying subsequently picks up. Why?

The answer is that demand has nothing to do with the cost of either buying or renting a home. The only determining factor is greed - just that and nothing else. Estate agents especially occupy an avarice-soaked bubble in which they seem to believe that there is and always will be a never-ending line of eager buyers with plenty of cash and rental income is a free-flowing waterfall of easy money. Most landlords are not professional home suppliers; many are people who have a bit of cash to buy places to rent out and bring in a little extra income. They will thus use an estate agent to let their property – for a landlord the ideal tenant is long-term, sometimes for decades and even for life and there are more of them than one might realise. Long-term tenants represent stability.

But estate agents don’t want long-term tenants. Estate agents want six months, a year at most, then boot ‘em out and get a new one in. This is because the agents can then put the price up continually, ensuring their back pockets are regularly filled. Long-term tenants tend largely to pay much lower rents because the landlord has a lengthy period to recover their outlay, be that the cost of buying the property or regular, routine maintenance for which they are responsible. But landlords are sucked into the greed of estate agents by the promise of always rising income – if they have short-term tenants. Hence the problem of ever-rising rents and the eagerness with which some landlords want to evict people.

Until and unless a UK government – of any party – has the courage to attack greed, and ensure that housing benefit actually covers what it costs to have a home, the problem will not go away. The only end result will be having a home is only for those with serious money and the rest will be camped out on the streets.

© Kevan James 2020

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