Burnham: ‘challenging winter’
ahead for homelessness fight

Mayor criticises autumn statement for lack of help

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The government’s autumn statement did not deliver the help Greater Manchester wanted as the region faces a “challenging winter” in combating homelessness and rough sleeping, Andy Burnham has warned.

The mayor commented as he announced an additional £460,000 of funding for A Bed Every Night, Greater Manchester’s support scheme to keep people off the streets.

Public concerns

Rough sleeping in Greater Manchester has increased in October after four years of falling numbers, said Burnham.

As the cost-of-living crisis hits home, he said: “We need to raise our game to provide support for the people who need it.”

Burnham predicted that public concerns about homelessness are likely to be “particularly pronounced” this winter. Speaking alongside him, Paul Newcombe, chief executive office of Manchester’s Booth Centre, which supports homeless people and rough sleepers, said the number of people it sees daily has recently risen from 70-80 to 100 and forecasted a further rise to 120-150.

Refugees and asylum seekers denied recourse to public funds are contributing to that rise, added Newcombe.

In his autumn statement this month, the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, promised to increase most benefits in line with inflation and capped rent rises in the social housing sector to 7 per cent next year. But he excluded local housing allowance from the benefits to be increased, and rejected calls for a private sector rent rise freeze.

Local housing allowance already fails to cover average rents in the private rented sector in most parts of Greater Manchester.

Rent freeze needed

“Rents are so high people cannot access housing,” said Paul Dennett, Salford mayor and Greater Manchester’s deputy mayor and lead on homelessness. He added that the uprating of other benefits should be implemented now and not in March, to prevent the crisis deepening.

“We were hoping the autumn statement would have gone much further,” said Dennett. “We need government to think systematically about the crisis in housing and homelessness.”

Almost 3.3 million private renters in England – nearly one in three – have had their rent increased in the last three months, according to recent research by Shelter. Nearly a third have had to borrow money in the last month to keep paying their rent, the housing and homelessness charity also found as it warned that the rental crisis “could fast become a homelessness emergency”.

“We needs a rent freeze in the private rental sector,” said Dennett.

Economic conditions are also hitting housing supply, he added.

Developers have been hit by inflation and higher interest rates, meaning it is harder for planning authorities to make demands on them to provide affordable homes and Section 106 commitments to improve community facilities. And although borrowing restrictions on councils were lifted in 2018, to make it easier for them to build social housing, five local authorities among Greater Manchester’s 10 were prevented from accessing capital grants by the “orthodoxy” of the funding process, said Dennett.

Rise in evictions

The Department of Work and Pensions last increased local housing allowance in 2020. It says that for those who need further support to meet a shortfall in their housing costs, discretionary housing payments are available from local authorities. But it admits that local housing allowance is not intended to meet “all rents in all areas”.

Greater Manchester’s concerns about homelessness are shared across the North. Last week East Riding Council approved an increase in discretionary housing payments because it feared more people becoming homeless if a rise in evictions continued.

A DWP spokesperson said local housing allowance rates are reviewed annually and a decision on rates from April 2023 will be announced “in due course”.

The spokesperson said: “During the pandemic we increased local housing allowance significantly and beyond inflation, benefiting over one million households by an average of over £600 over the year. We’re maintaining that boost, keeping support for private renters above pre-pandemic levels.

“We recognise people are facing pressures with the cost of living which is why we have taken action through our £37 billion support package to help households with rising costs, including £1,200 this year for the most vulnerable.”

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