Andy Street has urged the Government to urgently rethink part of the benefits system to protect society’s most vulnerable from becoming homeless.
The Mayor of the West Midlands has called on his own party to increase the Local Housing Allowance, which he says is a major factor contributing to the increase in homelessness in the region.
The LHA, which is part of Universal Credit, has been frozen for three years while the costs of private-rented housing have continued to rise – meaning more and more people are being evicted for falling into rent arrears.
Mr Street, the former managing director of John Lewis, said: “While business growth in the West Midlands is strong, we have rough sleepers in doorways just a few steps away from expensive new offices, while other people are sleeping on sofas with their friends or family, or living in some of the worst quality shared housing.
“We are doing everything we can to tackle this, and we have seen some success with our Housing First Model, which has already provided accommodation and support for 73 homeless people since last autumn. But we need to go much further if we are to design out homelessness, and that includes an urgent rethink of the Local Housing Allowance.”
Mr Street, who has spoken out following a meeting with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd, added: “I will not hesitate to stand up to Government when they are not putting the interests of the West Midlands first - and this is one of those occasions. The Government must help us tackle homelessness by addressing welfare-related poverty.”
The Mayor has joined forces with homelessness charities, such as Crisis with its ‘Cover the Cost’ campaign, to press for the Government to increase the Local Housing Allowance so 30 per cent of rented homes in any area are affordable for everyone.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive at Crisis, said: “We know that the increasing gap between private rents and housing benefit is putting people are under constant pressure to meet simply meet the basic cost rent. This overwhelming pressure month after month is becoming too much for many and they are being forced into homelessness. No-one should have to live like this.
“To prevent more and more people being pushed into homelessness, we urgently need commitment from the government to both end the current freeze on Local Housing Allowance, and also ensure it is set at a level that covers the real cost of renting. Ending homelessness for good is entirely possible, but it is only achievable with changes like this.”
Jean Templeton, CEO of the Birmingham-based St Basil’s charity for young homeless people, heads up the WMCA’s Homelessness Taskforce, which was set up when Mr Street was elected as Mayor of the West Midlands.
She said: “Homelessness is a complex issue, which requires the public, private and voluntary sectors to work together to address the root causes.
“Increasing the Local Housing Allowance and enabling people to have it paid direct to landlords from the start of their tenancy would make a huge impact in reducing homelessness and improving people’s health and wellbeing.”
Members of the Homelessness Taskforce include the seven constituent West Midlands member authorities, other public sector organisations, the voluntary sector, and representatives from the business community and housing associations.
The WMCA Board recently approved the taskforce’s forward plan, which will build prevention of homelessness into all the combined authority’s developing work programmes.
The overall purpose of the taskforce is to strengthen the region’s ability to support some of the most vulnerable people in its communities and ensure that its growth is inclusive for all, including those experiencing severe disadvantage.
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