Tory West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has gone ‘blue on blue’ to back an urgent rethink part of the benefits system to tackle homelessness.
Street calls on Government to increase the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) which he says is a major factor contributing to the increase in homelessness in the region.
“Business growth in the West Midlands is strong (but) we have rough sleepers in doorways just a few steps away from expensive new offices, while other people are sleeping on sofas with their friends or family, or living in some of the worst quality shared housing,” said Street.
“We are doing everything we can to tackle this, and we have seen some success with our Housing First Model, which has already provided accommodation and support for 73 homeless people since last autumn.
“But we need to go much further if we are to design out homelessness, and that includes an urgent rethink of the Local Housing Allowance,” he said.
The LHA – part of Universal Credit, has been frozen for three years while the costs of private-rented housing have continued to rise – meaning more and more people are being evicted for falling into rent arrears.
As reported by 24housing, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Universal Credit went after the LHA as the impact of the 30% cap, the benefits freeze and rents rising faster than inflation saw its value falling even faster than other benefits – to cover just 3% of rents in some parts of the country.
The Group said benefits should rise by 2% above inflation for each of the next 4 years in order to restore their value to 2015 levels – with a minimum standard of income for benefits claimants should be assessed and implemented by the DWP for all elements of UC.
Street spoke out after a meeting with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd to say: “I will not hesitate to stand up to Government when they are not putting the interests of the West Midlands first – and this is one of those occasions – the Government must help us tackle homelessness by addressing welfare-related poverty.”
Rudd has already said the next PM needs to end benefit freeze with destitution on the rise.
Now, Street has aligned himself with homelessness charities, such as Crisis with its ‘Cover the Cost’ campaign, to press for the Government to increase the LHA so 30% of rented homes in any area are affordable for everyone.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive at Crisis, said: “We know that the increasing gap between private rents and housing benefit is putting people are under constant pressure to meet simply meet the basic cost rent. This overwhelming pressure month after month is becoming too much for many and they are being forced into homelessness
“To prevent more and more people being pushed into homelessness, we urgently need commitment from the government to both end the current freeze on the LHA, and also ensure it is set at a level that covers the real cost of renting. Ending homelessness for good is entirely possible, but it is only achievable with changes like this.”
Jean Templeton, CEO of the Birmingham-based St Basil’s charity for young homeless people, heads up the WMCA’s Homelessness Taskforce, which was set up when Mr Street was elected as Mayor of the West Midlands, said an increase in the LHA should come in tandem with its payment direct to landlords from the start of a their tenancy to make a “huge impact” in reducing homelessness.
Members of the Homelessness Taskforce include the seven constituent West Midlands member authorities, other public sector organisations, the voluntary sector, and representatives from the business community and housing associations.
The WMCA Board recently approved the taskforce’s forward plan, which will build prevention of homelessness into all the combined authority’s developing work programmes.
The overall purpose of the taskforce is to strengthen the region’s ability to support some of the most vulnerable people in its communities and ensure that its growth is inclusive for all, including those experiencing severe disadvantage.