‘Housing is a human right, not a luxury’: Amnesty International delivers damning critique of government housing policy

‘The current housing system in England is simply not fit for purpose.’

Social housing

A new report published by Amnesty International UK points to flaws in the current housing system, including how local authorities in England do not have a duty to provide housing to people if they are subject to immigration restrictions, are not recognised as being in a priority group for housing, or are deemed ‘intentionally’ homeless.

Under the current system, someone can be regarded ‘intentionally homeless’ on a number of grounds including having failed to pay their rent or mortgage payments when considered able to, or they have been assessed as having refused to accept ‘suitable’ accommodation offered by the local authority.

1 in 3 adults worry about becoming homeless

The research carried out by the human rights charity shows that nearly one in three adults worry that they could soon end up homeless, sofa surfing or in temporary accommodation. Additionally, two in five adults have concerns that someone they know will end up on the streets in the near future.

The 83-page report titled ‘An Obstacle Course: Homelessness Assistance and the Right to Housing in England’ report, is the first body of research Amnesty has carried out on homelessness in England.

People denied housing

It cites how 270,000 people are, according to government figures, facing homelessness in England and how government policies have resulted in thousands of people being denied housing.

The research finds that attempts to ration a severe shortfall in adequate, affordable housing are shutting people out of the system.

It is especially critical of how local authorities are under no legal obligation to provide homelessness support to individuals who are subject to immigration control when they have or are treated as having ‘no recourse to public funds’ status. The report notes how the migrants who are part of this group are often among the poorest and most vulnerable in society, as they are not entitled to public money and are often unable to rent accommodation or find work.

Calls for government to remove immigration restrictions

The human rights organisation is calling on the government to abolish immigration restrictions and make it easier for individuals to gain access to temporary accommodation. As well as urging the government to remove the barriers that have been put in place to deny people their right to housing, Amnesty is calling for more social housing to be built urgently to address the deficit.

Housing is a human right, not a luxury

Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International UK, commented on the housing situation in the UK.

“Housing is a human right, not a luxury and it needs to be protected in law.

“It’s very convenient for the government that people often assume a person is homeless as a result of personal circumstances, but in truth homelessness is a result of a systematic failure of government.

“The absurd obstacle course which a person experiencing homelessness has to get through in order to ‘qualify’ for housing help is intended to lock them out, because there simply isn’t enough housing for the ever-growing need.

“Draconian and highly subjective rules regularly result in the most vulnerable being the least likely to be helped.

“Many people subject to immigrations restrictions are excluded both from public funds and permission to work. Made unable to support themselves and denied housing help, they inevitably end up sleeping rough. The system is rigged against them.

“We should get rid of the idea of being ‘intentionally’ homeless, it’s outdated and cruel. It only serves to force scared people into accepting inadequate, unsuitable accommodation.

“The current housing system in England is simply not fit for purpose. It needs wholescale reform to restore fairness and compassion.

“Unless housing is rightfully recognised as a basic legal human right, there is no way to hold the government to account for its woeful failings,” said Deschmukh.

The report comes as figures show that homelessness is on the rise in the UK. In London, rough sleeping has increased by 94% in the last decade – almost double the number of people living on the  streets in the capital 10 years ago.

‘Baffling, unworkable and dangerous’

This week has also seen Boris Johnson announce a string of housing measures designed to reset his premiership following Monday’s bruising vote of no confidence. One policy is the extension of the right to buy for housing association tenants. Another is to give recipients of benefits the chance to use the money to buy homes.

The proposals have been branded as ‘baffling, unworkable and dangerous’ by experts. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “The Treasury must invest the cash needed to replace homes alongside additional spending to increase the supply of social housing. This, along with radical reform of the private rented sector, is what is needed to turn the tide on the housing crisis.”

The homeless charity Shelter described the plans as “reckless’, saying: “The prime minister’s housing plans are baffling, unworkable, and a dangerous gimmick. Hatching reckless plans to extend right to buy will put our rapidly shrinking supply of social homes at even greater risk.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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