London’s Homelessness Crisis
In every classroom in London, there is on average one child who is living in emergency accommodation. This shocking and disgraceful fact was one of many uncovered recently by the cross-party London Councils group, which works across all the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. Their data also shows that nearly 170,000 people in the capital are now living in hostels, bedsits, or other temporary accommodation, and increase of 17,000 people in just one year, and that this includes 83,000 children.
Of course, these statistics are just the start. Many more people live in even worse conditions, sofa-surfing or sleeping rough. According to St Mungo’s, there are 10,000 people sleeping rough in London, a tripling of the number from around 3,500 in 2008/09.
When it comes to rough sleeping, Hackney is no different than many other boroughs. We rank slightly above average for number of people seen sleeping rough: 229, compared to a London average of 214. We also rank slightly below average for evictions at 2.2 per 1,000 households (compared to a London average of 2.42).
Behind the data, the factors driving homelessness have sadly become only greater. 22% of people in Hackney have low paid jobs and Hackney has a shocking 10% more child poverty than the average London Borough. This low pay is squeezing households with ever higher rents, driven by Hackney’s new wave of gentrification.
In N16, a two-bedroom property will easily cost nearly £1,700pcm, far more than the whole salary of a minimum wage worker doing 40 hours a week. Rent increases have affected all of London, but east London has been particularly hard hit. In N15, at the northern border of our constituency, rents have increased 62% in the last 10 years, compared to just 13% in SW5 or 17% in SW7.
Compounding the issue is the rising cost of living which stretches household budgets even further. On top of rising rents, in the year to June 2023, domestic gas prices increased by 36% and domestic electricity prices by 17%. These increases come after annual increases in the previous year of 95% for gas and 53% for electricity. UK food and non-alcoholic drink prices are 17.3% higher in May 2023 compared to the previous year.
The privatisation of housing and hollowing out of council housing has driven a surge in house prices and in private renting. More and more Londoners have seen the dream of home ownership slip through their fingers and the option of stable affordable social renting swallowed by profiteering by landlords, taking advantage of tenants with nowhere else to go.
Endemic low pay means that these rent rises are far faster than anaemic pay rises. Housing costs constitute an ever-greater portion of renters expenses, at a time when the cost of food and other essentials rises ever faster. Tackling homelessness in London then, should start at its cause.We urgently need a new generation of social housing, empowering and compelling councils to build thousands of new council houses without the threat of Thatcherite landlords swooping in to turn a family home into their latest cash cow investment.
We also need immediate relief for Londoners and people across the UK. That can begin with an end to Section 21 No Fault evictions and giving regional mayors the power to implement rent controls.
Finally, we need action on the causes of the cost-of-living crisis. Repealing anti-union legislation and awarding proper public sector pay rises to rectify a lost decade of austerity would go a long way to repair the damage done. This could be paid for with taxes on the bumper corporate profits that are the real drivers of inflation.
Accompanying this should be a big hike in the minimum wage and uplift in universal credit to match the lag they saw over the last decade thanks to the political choices of the last decade.
The way out of this crisis is no secret and our government's failure to enact these solutions is a deliberate decision to keep thousands of Londoners, including children, without a permanent stable home.