UK surge in housing costs for poorest 'worst in western Europe'


The cost of a home for the lowest earners has risen faster in Britain than anywhere in western Europe, fuelling a “worrying” increase in homelessness, a Europe-wide investigation has found.

Housing costs for people who earn about £16,000 a year increased by 45% between 2010 and 2016, compared with an average rise of 10% for the lowest earners across Europe, according to a report by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (Feantsa).

Only in Bulgaria, where property prices shot up after interest rate cuts, have costs risen more steeply for the lowest earners. They increased by about 1% a year in Italy and Ireland, and fell in the Netherlands and Spain.

The report concludes that in England the main cause of statutory homelessness is the termination of private rental contracts, when people cannot afford to find another home.

The number of households registering as homeless following the end of an assured shorthold tenancy has tripled since 2010-2011, it found. Their proportion out of the total number registered as homeless by local authorities increased from 11% in 2009-10 to almost one-third in 2016-17. In London, this proportion rose from 10% to 39% in the same period.

Britain’s near-bottom ranking for rising housing costs for the poorest in society is likely to heighten concern about the rapid rise in the number of rough sleepers.

The latest UK government figures showed 4,751 people were sleeping rough last autumn, up 15% on the previous year, with the largest numbers in Westminster, Brighton, Camden and Manchester. Shelter, one of the UK organisations involved in the report, said these figures showed “we have failed as a society”.

Freek Spinnewijn, the director of Feantsa, said: “Housing exclusion and homelessness have taken on dramatic proportions in the UK.

“For almost all indicators, the UK scores badly in a European perspective and the situation has often worsened over the last few years. Especially worrying is the massive increase in rough sleepers and homeless people in temporary accommodation. The situation of young people in the housing market is also becoming hopeless.”

Just over four in 10 poorer households in the UK are overburdened by housing costs, the report shows. This is defined as spending more than 40% of disposable income on housing and is just above the EU average.

Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said: “The lack of genuinely affordable homes strikes at the heart of our homelessness crisis. It has left millions of families across the country trapped in expensive, unstable private renting.

“Every day at Shelter, we hear from families facing a daily struggle to stay in their home as they balance sky-high rents with putting food on the table. A situation made even worse by crippling welfare cuts.

“To put an end to our spiralling housing crisis, the government must urgently build many more genuinely affordable homes for ordinary families to rent.”

Homelessness has risen across Europe, with a 150% increase in Germany from 2014 to 2016, a 20% rise in the number of people in emergency shelters in Spain over the same period and an 8% increase in Denmark between 2015 and 2017.

In the Netherlands in 2015, 4,000 children were registered with local authorities as homeless, up 60% on 2013. Only two countries have seen reductions: Finland and Norway.

The report concluded: “Homelessness is a clear violation of human rights, which despite everything is chronic and significantly worsening in Europe. EU institutions should use the international and European standards and legal instruments to initiate a human rights-based approach to homelessness.”



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