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Source: Labour List UK

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Grassroots housing campaign groups have outlined a set of policies that they say would “ease the pain that tenants and people experiencing homelessness have felt through the pandemic and for years prior to that”.

In an open letter by Labour Tenants United, Labour Homelessness and the Labour Campaign for Council Housing, activists have outlined measures that would “allow us to stymie the growing humanitarian crisis”.

The policies being demanded include the reintroduction of the Covid emergency evictions ban, full furlough support in line with the national living wage, maintaining the uplift in Universal Credit and raising the Local Housing Allowance.

The Labour campaigners are also urging the government to implement an improved version of the ‘Everyone In’ scheme, which ministers have confirmed will not be repeated during the second lockdown currently in place.

The policy created for the first national lockdown saw around 15,000 rough sleepers provided with emergency accommodation in hotels, hostels and B&Bs to protect public health amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary Thangam Debbonaire called for its reintroduction earlier this month. According to one study, the centrally funded ‘Everyone In’ scheme avoided an estimated 266 deaths.

The party campaigners want Covid-related rent arrears cancelled, the ‘no recourse to public funds’ visa condition scrapped, the criminalisation of homelessness ended and legislation to abolish Section 21 evictions.

The Tory government has promised to scrap ‘no fault’ evictions, but no recent progress has been made on the renters’ reform bill, which would also make a database of rogue landlords and property agents available to tenants.

The housing minister confirmed the delay in July, and told parliament that the legislation – first announced in December – would only be brought forward “once the urgencies of responding to the pandemic have passed”.

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour have backed the proposal advocated by Labour activist groups, as well as Acorn, Living Rent and the London Renters Union, to suspend and cancel rents during the Covid pandemic.

Below is the full text of the open letter.

As a grassroots campaigns on housing issues we have seen the real impact of the pandemic and the government’s wilful failure to support those in need. Working with councillors, tenants’ unions and housing workers and volunteers we are continually hearing of evictions, unsafe conditions and criminalisation of those in need. Years of austerity and decades of promoting unaffordable private housing at the expense of social rented homes have already left huge numbers in precarious housing situations, and they are now bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

We are yet to see any intent from the government to fully address the impact of the pandemic and the wider housing crisis. All of this is completely avoidable, with the right measures. Indeed, the government previously showed some understanding of this potential with the ‘Everyone In’ scheme and their manifesto promise to end section 21 evictions. While these are very basic policies, we are yet to see any follow through. Any government’s priority should at the very least include an unconditional right to housing and the pandemic gives the country a moment of clarity for that need.

As such, we are calling for the following measures that, as a comprehensive package, could begin to ease the pain that tenants and people experiencing homelessness have felt through the pandemic and for years prior to that.

  • Immediately reintroduce the evictions ban, cancel any coronavirus-related rent arrears and the bring forward legislation to end section 21 no-fault evictions before the end of the crisis. This is with a view to bringing in rent caps to control the ever-spiralling rent crisis.
  • Provide full furlough employment and sick pay support and bring the furlough and sick pay minimum in line with the national living wage.
  • End waiting times and keep the higher lockdown rate for Universal Credit and raise the Local Housing Allowance to prevent the risk of homelessness.
  • Implement an improved ‘Everyone In’ scheme, opening up unconditional hotels for those on the streets and long-term floating support to keep them off the streets, and ensure specialist provision for those with addiction and mental health needs or for those fleeing domestic violence and other forms of abuse.
  • Scrap the ‘no recourse to public funds’ visa condition so everyone can get the full support they need regardless of immigration status, and immediately halt Home Office guidance changes which from December 1st would make sleeping rough grounds for losing the right to remain in the UK.
  • End all forms of criminalisation of homelessness, from the misuse of coronavirus-related powers to the pre-existing 1824 Vagrancy Act, public space protection orders and other orders under ‘anti-social behaviour’ laws and the 2012 anti-squatting legislation. Criminalising the most vulnerable simply drives them away from engaging with services and keeps them on the streets during the pandemic.
  • End the Right to Buy scheme that has so vastly exacerbated the housing crisis and replace it with a comprehensive council building programme with affordable and safe homes to rent that includes government investment of £10bn per year grant funding to build 100,000 social rent council homes per year to help tackle the crisis.

The pandemic does not need to mean mass homelessness – that is a political choice being made by those in power. We call on the government to implement these basic measures, but to make this happen we need coordinated demands from the grassroots, from councils and from across the labour movement. Bringing in the above measures could allow us to stymie the growing humanitarian crisis and finally put the right to housing at the forefront at such an important time.

Signed,

Labour Tenants United
Labour Homelessness
Labour Campaign for Council Housing

MIL OSI United Kingdom