The Mayor of #London, Sadiq Khan, has urged the Housing Minister to act now to ensure vital work undertaken to protect homeless people in London during the pandemic does not go to waste

Channel 1 Los Angeles

9/7/2020 London

In the letter to Robert Jenrick MP, the Mayor – writing with the chair of London Councils, Cllr Peter John – emphasises the need to prepare for winter and a potential second wave of Covid-19. London’s world-leading response to the pandemic saw more than 4,000 homeless people accommodated in hotels.

This unprecedented effort from City Hall, boroughs and charities contributed to there only being six Covid-19 related deaths among London’s homeless population, a far lower rate than other major world cities. In London the Covid-19 infection rate amongst rough sleepers tested was 3-4 per cent compared to 66 per cent in San Francisco.

The ‘Everyone In’ programme also allowed charities and community groups to work positively with homeless people in a way never seen before. This has led to more than 2,000 former rough sleepers leaving hotels to enter longer term, sustainable accommodation.

However, the economic impact of the pandemic is expected to lead to a sharp rise in homelessness in London meaning immediate action is needed to prepare for winter and to stem the flow of people losing their homes by offering greater protection to private renters.

The Mayor has also reiterated his call for far more to be done to help non-UK nationals, including people with no recourse to public funds, who find their options to escape homelessness hopelessly limited.

Full text of Sadiq Khan and Peter John’s letter to Robert Jenrick MP below:

As you know, the GLA and boroughs acted swiftly and proactively to accommodate and support thousands of London’s rough sleepers in response to the COVID-19 emergency. We have continued to work tirelessly with our charity partners and others, and in close collaboration with – and funding from – the Government, on the operation. As a result, the levels of infection and deaths among London’s rough sleepers have been extremely low compared with other world cities, with six COVID-related deaths among London’s homeless people up to the end of June compared with, for example, New York City, where 86 homeless people had died of COVID-19 by the end of May.

Importantly, we have taken this unique opportunity to ensure that the people in the hotels and other emergency accommodation are supported to move on and rebuild their lives. As a result, more than 2,000 former rough sleepers accommodated by the boroughs and the GLA as part of the ‘everyone in’ COVID-19 response have now positively moved on.

But the number of people on the streets remains high and is increasing at a worrying rate. The number sleeping rough for the first time between April and June this year was 77 per cent higher than in the same period last year, and 4,227 people slept rough at least once during the quarter. These numbers are projected to increase further in the coming months.

Working with our charity and community-based partners, we are taking steps to tailor our services both for those new to the streets and for the winter (including night shelters) so they are fit for purpose for the COVID era. However, we are also mindful of a possible second wave of COVID-19, and the potential need to again act extremely quickly to provide accommodation and support to ensure that rough sleepers are safe and that infection rates among them and the wider community are minimised. We want to be able to plan for this now, and need the support of the Government to do so.

First, we urge you to commit now to providing the funding needed for emergency accommodation and support for a potential second wave, to enable us to start making arrangements with hoteliers and others so that what we need is in place if and when the time comes. Doing this now makes sense not only in terms of making sure we can respond rapidly and with the right services, but also because it will achieve better value for money than would be the case if we were trying to procure accommodation and services at the last minute.

Second, it is critical that the Government takes measures around the private rented sector and welfare to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, so that the numbers on the streets do not increase further. This is particularly urgent given the current economic context, as the country potentially heads into a deep recession. These include:  

1.      increasing the amounts available to private tenants through Housing Benefit and the housing support element of Universal Credit, realigning rates with median market rents for all claimants and covering in full the rents of those unable to pay them due to COVID-19, potentially by increasing the funds allocated to local authorities for Discretionary Housing Payments;

2.      introducing now the changes to the exemption from the Shared Accommodation Rate of Local Housing Allowance announced in this spring’s Budget;

3.      suspending the Benefit Cap. Because of the Cap, more than 44,000 households in London are currently subject to deductions from their Housing Benefit or housing support element of their Universal Credit. The number is set to increase by almost half, in line with the increase in Londoners claiming welfare benefits; and

4.      offering non-repayable advances to all new Universal Credit claimants.

Third, we would like to reiterate the points made in our letter to you of 18 June regarding protections for non-UK national rough sleepers, as these are ever more important in light of a potential second wave. In summary, we continue to call for a suspension of the Habitual Residence Test and the No Recourse to Public Funds condition, Government support to enable access to specialist immigration advice, and the provision of clear guidance to local authorities around the provision of emergency accommodation regardless of immigration status.

Without these measures and commitments, we fear that the health and safety of some of the capital’s most vulnerable people could be severely compromised, and the world-leading work we have done together over the last six months undermined.

We look forward to hearing from you on this pressing issue.

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