Budget 2021: Caring in Bristol’s response

We look at what the chancellor’s announcement and its implementation will mean for people at risk of and experiencing homelessness in Bristol in the coming year.

Caring in Bristol’s Director Ben Richardson says of the budget: “Bristol needs further funding to help keep members of our community safe and off the streets, and unfortunately this budget does little to support us with that goal. It is wrong to end the £20 uplift in Universal Credit in just six months when people will need it most and we find ourselves again in situation where many of Bristol’s most vulnerable residents will have no option but to rely on the support of the voluntary and informal sector to help meet basic needs. Homelessness in our city is unnecessary and solvable.”

Assistant Director Lisa Space adds: “The past year has demonstrated that it is possible to end homelessness, but it will require an unwavering commitment and financial investment from central government to bring about lasting change. It’s disappointing to see that none of the new proposed budgetary measures will support this change. Many of the people in our city who have been given temporary respite will once again be pushed into desperate and unsafe situations, this is an unacceptable step in the wrong direction.”

Protect renters

Mention of support for renters in today’s announcement was extremely scant, despite the fact that over 840,000 are currently in arrears with their rent.

The so-called ‘eviction ban’ which has been reduced in its scope to cover arrears accumulated as a result of the pandemic from nine until six months is due to be lifted entirely at the end of March. This will necessarily increase the number of people experiencing homelessness in our city and nationwide.

The government’s pledge to end Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions also still sits in limbo, meaning that even those who are not in arrears could face eviction at any time.

The government must stick to its promise that nobody will be made homeless due to the pandemic and make good on their pledge to end Section 21 evictions.

Protect people who are under- or undocumented migrants

The imminent March 31st end to funding for emergency accommodation for European Economic Area nationals without worker status and refused asylum seekers who have been designated as No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF.)

In Bristol, this affects dozens of people in temporary accommodation who will be forced to rough sleep without further support, as well as an unknown, but invariably higher number of people who are staying informally with family and friends but are just as at risk of having no option but to sleep on the streets.

This compounds the problems inflicted by the government’s Hostile Environment policy, which deters people from seeking medical help due to their immigration status, further exposing them to the risk of Covid-19.

The government must suspend NRPF and enact the demands of the #VaccinesForAll campaign.

Homes, not investments

The only significant mention of renters in the chancellor’s budget announcement was within the context of 95% mortgages – which some have suggested could lead to inflated house prices and act as a “boon for investors,” rather than young first-time buyers it is supposed to help.

In Bristol, where in 2019 the average house price was nine times that of the average person’s income this will only benefit the minority of renters with savings and parental support.

Secure and truly affordable social housing is the solution to the housing crisis.

Keep the lifeline

One of the most widely-reported on measures in the budget is the end of £20 uplift in Universal Credit, the remaining six months of which will be paid as a one-off lump sum of £500.

The economic shocks of the pandemic will not have dissipated in six months time, and research by the Trussell Trust shows that rescinding the uplift would leave millions “very likely to cut back on food for themselves” and hundreds of thousands “very likely to cut back on food for their children.”

Furthermore, if the support fails to extend into Autumn of this year it will coincide with temperatures dropping, worsening the effects for people who cannot cover both food an utilities and so are faced with the option of ‘heating or eating.’ Nor does the uplift apply to people on legacy benefits and Employment and Support Allowance.

All of this adds up to increased poverty, more rent arrears, and ultimately more people at risk of and experiencing homelessness.

The Universal Credit uplift should last as long as the effects of the pandemic are felt – this may well mean making it permanent.

At Caring in Bristol, we are working to create a city empowered to solve homelessness.

This means mitigating against its most immediate effects through projects like Nightstop and the Youth Shelter we are opening this year and making sure that the people in our community experiencing homelessness continue to be supported towards independence as exemplified by the fantastic work of our Youth Services team and Cheers Drive.

It also means joining in with the collective effort of the many brilliant groups and individuals in Bristol working to make it a safe and welcoming place where everyone has access to secure housing.

Sign the Shelter Petition calling on the government to build social housing.

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