Labour Councillors successfully got the issue of homelessness on to the agenda of Kettering Council’s Town Forum, and last night a presentation was given to the Forum (made up of Borough and Country Councillors, as well as organisations and civic groups from around the town) by the council’s housing staff.
Currently there are 187 households in the Borough who have been classified as homeless and the council receive about 40 new cases each week. The presentation included various figures and charts showing clearly how the problem has grown over the last couple of years with a massive increase. For example the council are currently housing 76 households in emergency accommodation compared with just 34 in March 2014 (a rise of more than 300% in less than three years).
What was also made clear was the type of people that were now being affected had changed with the vast majority (77%) today being families with children. This is a trend connected with the amount of people coming from the private rented sector as landlords are throwing out more of their tenants so they can put their rents up by re-letting to others more able to pay.
Other housing pressure are caused by increasing local house prices with an average Kettering property now costing £177,000 (six times the average local wages), the impact of welfare cuts to people on benefits and low income (including Kettering Council currently offering less help with Council Tax Support than any other council in the country), and not enough new properties being built locally to meet demand.
Throughout the whole presentation the one recurring theme was the “soaring demand for social housing”, something the Labour group have been calling for for some time as increasing homelessness mean more and more people are having to wait to be suitably housed. As local councillors we all deal with cases of people waiting to find more suitable housing on a weekly basis and the length of time people have to wait is extremely frustrating and stressful for them.
The other shocking statistic for me was that out of all the homeless people the council see, only about half of them are eligible to be registered as homeless as the council currently only helps those that they are legally obligated to do so and applicants have to meet a strict criteria including things like being a priority (most single men fall fowl of this), having a local connection, and of course having the right to live and be housed in the UK.
One piece of good news was that it was reported than local volunteers were currently trying to open a night shelter along the lines of one already operating in Corby, and the council have helped them with a small grant for equipment and the housing manager said he was ‘impressed by their professionalism and was pleased to be working with them’.
We were reminded that the growing number of homeless is a national problem and the council were doing the best they can, but clearly the current pressures the council are under are putting the whole system under strain, and while there are lots of small things that can be done, the big picture still needs to be addressed and until even more low cost housing is provided in Kettering there will be an ongoing problem. My Labour colleagues and I will continue to call for action in this area as well as supporting initiatives to increase the short-term provision for dealing with the current levels of homelessness.