top of page

Will rough sleeping end in 2024? A conversation with Pecan Charity

One of the manifesto pledges set by the Conservative Party in 2019 was to end the blight of rough sleeping. Ahead of the General election and campaigns this year, I wanted to find out more about homelessness as I have previously volunteered at Pecan Charity organisation and had many insightful encounters whilst working at their food banks.


I am Gargi, a research assistant at the Stress, Psychiatry and Immunology lab, and I have previously written articles on the cost-of-living crisis and student mental health. I met Mr Chris Price, the former CEO of the charity, and I spoke to him about the various reasons behind homelessness and problems with temporary accommodation.


I started by asking about the general trend.


"Homelessness and people at risk of homelessness are on the rise", Chris confirmed.


It is estimated that around 300,000 people, 14% more than last year, were in some form of homelessness (rough sleeping, temporary accommodation, etc.) in December 2023. The reasons for the incline could include the relatively high mortgage rates since 2022, affordability pressures on the rental market, and the long-standing shortage of affordable housing.


Changes in private ownership and rentals


Mortgage rates have significantly increased. High inflation pushed interest rates from around 2% to around 7% in less than two years (between December 2021 and July 2023), and the Bank of England announced that rates will be held at 5.25% this month. As inflation is at 3.4%, double the Bank of England target of 2%, it seems likely the mortgage rates may not change significantly in 2024.  


Not only will this impact people looking to get on the property ladder, but it will affect around 1.5 million homeowners whose fixed-rate mortgage deals will end this year, resulting in an estimated average increase of £2,900 a year on mortgage repayments. Higher mortgage rates would mean that more households would be struggling to make the repayments and may even result in property repossessions, and subsequent homelessness.


The increasing costs affect renters because landlords may be able to pass their costs to the renters in some cases, thereby exacerbating the pressures of private renting in which people already spend 35% of their income, and must compete against all odds to find suitable housing.


Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

Chris explained, “Rents are no longer going up in line with people’s income. There is also a rise in private landlords who are getting out of the business because it's just becoming unaffordable for them, or they're having to put rents up quite dramatically. Landlords have also got the option of section 21 (no-fault eviction) notices, meaning that people are told to leave their homes within a couple of months.”


Indeed, eviction from a private rented home is a leading cause of homelessness in England, and a survey by the housing charity shelter demonstrated that single parents are at a greater risk for section-21 notices.


Chris proceeded to explain that one way to alleviate some of this monetary burden from renters (mostly young, working individuals) could be by considering peoples’ rental history by mortgage companies for first-time buyers.


“Private rental always gets me; someone who's renting doesn't have the money to save up for a deposit because they're spending the money paying off someone else's mortgage, and I find it surprising that your rent history is not taken into account because if someone can make consistent monthly rent payments that are higher than the mortgage repayments, then they are less likely to default, so if that could be considered, it could be a game changer for first-time buyers.”, Chris mentioned.


Rough sleeping and people in temporary accommodation


There is an increase in rough sleeping in the central and outskirts of London. A study published by the Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping indicates a 26% increase in rough sleeping.


During the pandemic, people were also allocated hotels, which was highly beneficial as support workers could meet them regularly in fixed locations. There was a temporary ban on section-21 notices which has been restored since May 2021, and the Renters Reform Bill which calls for abolishing section-21 notices has been postponed indefinitely.

Photo by Andreea Popa on Unsplash

Chris also wanted to highlight that people in temporary accommodation and those sofa surfing are also homeless, and it may not always be visible. Government data published in November 2023 indicates that a record number of households with dependent children were in temporary and B&B accommodations.


He indicated that one of the reasons for the increase in families and children in temporary accommodation could be due to the two-child cap, in which the government has restricted means-tested child tax credit to the first two children only, and families with third/subsequent children born after the 6th of April 2017 do not get any additional support. This policy has been strongly linked to the high rates of child poverty.


Furthermore, there are numerous people in long-term temporary accommodation, which is when the council cannot house someone permanently for five years. Living in these conditions makes it difficult for people to have jobs, family/friends and support networks, and it can be especially hard for children. In a few cases, temporary accommodation becomes family homes for people, where they live for the entire lifespan and raise their children but are unable to pass it down to them.


“The vulnerability of people in temporary accommodation really increases and you have that long period of time where you are not settled”, Chris explained.


Lack of affordable housing


The increase in the demand for temporary housing could also be a result of the lack of affordable/social housing. The net additional dwellings in England are just under 235,000 in 2022-23. However, only 9,561 additional social homes were built in England in 2023, thus the difference between houses for private sale and social rent is vast.


Chris added, “Southwark Council (where the charity is based) is the largest social housing council provider in London. It is one of the best at trying to build new housing, but other boroughs are not pushing as hard as that and there isn’t a 50% social housing against 50% private housing being built, which what should be the target for every borough.”


Few councils outside of London are aiming to adapt reformed housing strategies. Reading Borough Council is seeking funding from the government for their Housing First scheme in which they propose to buy six properties to re-home individuals. Additionally, Southampton City Council have undertaken a five-year initiative which focuses on prevention, intervention, building stronger partnerships and finding better housing solutions.


The last question I asked Chris was how to keep motivated when trying to alleviate the burden of such a multifaceted issue as homelessness.


Chris replied, “You have to see a person holistically; you cannot solve one issue without the other issues having knock-on effects. Homelessness is very hard for people, it can be depressing, but you have to remember that you can only do your best. In Pecan, we work with many partners to support people in the best manner, advocate for people, and give their opinions a voice.”


This can help create a small difference, which can be a catalyst for a larger change.

Comments


bottom of page