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31 July 2012

Homelessness surges by 25% as the cuts bite

Demand for affordable housing is rising but supply is falling.

By George Eaton

Amid the national euphoria induced by the Olympics, here’s a grim reminder of the problems that remain. New figures out today show that homelessness has increased by 25 per cent over the last three years. According to data providers SSentif, 50,290 families and individuals were classed as homeless in 2011/12, up from 40,020 in 2009/10. Over the same period, spending on tackling homelessness fell from £213.7m to £199.8m. Correlation does not equal causation, of course, but it seems probable that the two trends are related. In Birmingham, for instance, where homelessness increased by 25 per cent, spending was reduced from £7.8 million to £5.5 million, a cut of 29 per cent. Although housing minister Grant Shapps has previously sought to deny it, the government’s own figures show that social house completions fell by 97 per cent last year, with affordable housing down by 68 per cent. The problem is simple: demand is rising but supply is falling.

The largest rise in homelessness was in the east of England, with the number of cases rising from 3,660 in 2009/10 to 5,270 in 2011/12 – a 44 per cent increase. It’s a similar story across the rest of the country. Homelessness is up by 34 per cent in London (from 9,460 to 12,720) and by 38 per cent in the south east (from 3,870 to 5,320). The only region to experience a fall in homelessness was the north east, where the number of households classed as homeless fell by 10 per cent from 2,010 to 1,800.

The government is understandably keen to point out that homelessness remains lower than for 28 of the last 30 years. But with unemployment expected to rise in the coming months and the full force of the Housing Benefit cap yet to be felt, today’s figures are likely a harbinger of worse to come.

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