Council Leaders Warning: Social Safety Net At Risk Of Collapse
By Rob Woodward: It was notable that half of all English councils amounting to 158 local authorities attended an emergency summit yesterday – hosted by Eastbourne borough council and the cross-party District Councils’ Network. During that meeting, a desperate plea was made by council leaders who warned of an impending disaster brought on by a severe shortage of social housing. And, as they pointed out, everything was made worse by the cost of living crisis, leading to a sharp rise in evictions. It concludes that the social safety net is on the verge of collapse.
Councils across England have not made a plea but demanded urgent government action to prevent the spiralling cost of providing temporary accommodation to people at risk of homelessness as local budgets become overwhelmed.
A number of councils, including Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest, have become insolvent in recent years. Although as self-inflicted and sometimes disastrous policy mistakes were made locally, everything is compounded by cuts in funding from Westminster, most notably in the decade from 2010.
Local government officials are predicting yet again that more than 20 councils are close to becoming bankrupt.
So desperate have council leaders become they plan to send Chancellor Jeremy Hunt a stern warning, that the social safety net was at risk of collapsing, driven by the unprecedented number of people facing homelessness. Councils are now spending a record proportion of their budgets on the provision of temporary accommodation.
“The danger is that we have no option but to start withdrawing services which currently help so many families to avoid hitting crisis point,” council leaders warned. They also demanded a meeting with Hunt to discuss what measures ahead of the Autumn Statement next month will be made.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils across England and Wales, has estimated that councils in England face an overall funding gap of £4bn, up £1bn from its own forecasts just four months ago.
The numbers speak for themselves. Households living in temporary accommodation, the most expensive a council can pay for in England rose by 89 per cent over the past decade. According to the LGA, the figure stood at 104,000 — the highest since records began in 1998.
After decades of selling off stock throughout the Right-To-Buy period, not only were nearly three million homes were sold off, 40 per cent ended up in the hands of private landlords. This has led to a severe shortage in social housing and means councils have had no choice but to accommodate people in hotels and bed and breakfasts at a cost of at least £1.74bn in 2022-23, the LGA said.
Councils attending the summit also demanded more long-term funding to increase social housing supply – something Jeremy Hunt is unlikely to announce or has the capacity for.
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Stephen Holt, Liberal Democrat leader of Eastbourne council, who initiated the meeting sad:
“Temporary accommodation is meant to be a safety net when times are tough. But if too many people are in the safety net it will collapse.”
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said nothing more than expected other than it was “committed to reducing the need for temporary accommodation” and that … “We are also delivering a fairer private rented sector for tenants and landlords through the renters reform bill, which includes abolishing Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions.”