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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Time is Running Out to Stop Homelessness

Friday, 25 September 2020


With the introduction of further lockdown measures across the country, including the early closure of bars, pubs and restaurants and the U-turn on advice to return to the office where possible, it is clear that we are entering a critical phase in the struggle to prevent a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. However this only makes the absence of further protection from evictions, especially in the private rented sector, an even more glaring oversight.

Back in March when the lockdown began the government introduced a ban on landlords evicting tenants. This protection expired on 21st September, and there is no indication that the government will further extend the measures. Research by the housing charity Shelter estimates that over 300,000 private renters have already fallen into arrears as a result of the pandemic, and while the economic fallout of coronavirus is yet to be fully understood, it is thought that a further 1.7 million tenants will find their jobs under threat within the next three months.

This is not just a housing emergency, it has very real public health consequences as well. A number of senior doctors and health officials, including representatives from the British Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Physicians and the Faculty of Public Health, have warned that an increase in evictions and homelessness could result in a severe increase in coronavirus infections. People forced into overcrowded temporary or emergency accommodation are far more likely to be unable to follow social distancing or self-isolation guidelines, and may even be unable to carry out basic hygiene measures. Poor quality and overcrowded housing is also known to be a key factor in vulnerability to coronavirus infection, with groups such as BAME residents, young people and migrant workers with no recourse to public funds particularly at risk.

The devolved governments in Wales and Scotland have already recognised these issues and have responded by extending their eviction bans until at least March 2021 and providing financial support for struggling tenants. Unless similar steps are taken in England we face the very real risk of creating, at the worst possible time, a self-inflicted disaster in both homelessness and infections.

 

While we wait for the government to do the right thing, we have not been idle in Tameside. Our Homelessness Service has done incredible work in the past few years in helping those in need in the borough. No council in England has been more successful in reducing the number of rough sleepers from 42 in 2018 to 5 in 2019, a reduction of 86%. A rough sleeper count on Thursday 9 July 2020 found no-one sleeping rough in the borough, the first time in a decade that we have returned such a result.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has shown that we need to build on this good work to do more for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. We intend to push forward with our plans to introduce a Selective Licensing Scheme for the private rented sector in Tameside. This will include working closely with landlords to prevent evictions arising from coronavirus-related arrears at a local level, while simultaneously helping tenants come up with a reasonable and effective repayment plan to make good on the debt within two years. Landlords who take part in the scheme will also be able to access additional funding from the government’s Green Homes Grant to improve the quality and energy efficiency of their housing stock.

The scourge of homelessness is not something that any developed country should accept even at the best of times. At a time where our public health is also at stake, it is utterly unforgivable. We are one of the richest nations in the world. It’s time we started acting like it. I want to see no stone left unturned, locally and nationally, for those who need our help the most. 

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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