The UK in October 2021 is a place of contradictions. New threats to our way of life seem to be splashed across the news every day – these are both immediate, such as the fuel shortage and the chaos that ensued across the country this week, and looming in the not-too-distant future, like the devastating effects of climate change (which are unlikely to be much abated by next month’s COP26 conference). However, equally the last several months have seen some remarkable positivity. “Unlocking” from the COVID-19 pandemic has seen people flocking to see friends and family. Pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues have reopened to much fanfare and, if my local high street is anything to go by, are doing a bustling trade. GDP grew faster in the second quarter of 2021 than the already optimistic estimates, up to a record 5.5% and a general air of ‘free at last’ seemed to resonate across the UK.
Despite this, it is important that we remember the long shadow that will be cast by COVID-19. The deadly disease has cost the lives of more than 130,000 people in Britain alone, and countless more were swept up in its effects. Job losses dominated the news for months as business after business went under. The uncertainty over furlough didn’t help matters, with many people in precarious workplaces being laid off by bosses worried about having to contribute. Naturally, what followed was thousands of people unable to pay their rent or for their most basic needs. Over 400,000 households fell into rent arrears during the pandemic, and despite a third of landlords agreeing to some sort of temporary reduction or deal with their tenants, many are now less sympathetic to the average £2,500+ owed. As you may expect, as a homeless charity we have seen the effects on those who have been evicted – legally or otherwise – for not being able to pay the hefty sum. As the decision to cut the previous increase to universal credit comes into the picture, we may be looking at a perfect storm of arrears, evictions, poverty, and eventually homelessness – with as many as 1.5 million working people forced into hardship this winter.
This problem will not necessarily come to a head immediately. It is unlikely that all those in a precarious situation now will fall into homelessness and poverty at once. Instead, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for years and decades to come. Predatory loan companies will prey on those with few options, selling people the time they desperately need at the cost of digging them deeper into a hole of debt they will struggle to escape. Some landlords will continue giving reductions to their tenants, waiting for the property market to improve before cutting their losses. Struggling small businesses will manage a little longer, before eventually folding, having never recovered from their losses in 2020. The mental health crisis, reaching a fever pitch as NHS waiting lists become increasingly long, will only get worse. For a while, those who fall through the cracks will be absorbed into the current systems and charities that exist to help homeless individuals. As time goes on however, that system becomes more and more strained.
So, what can we do? Supporting the charities and services that help those who’ve become homeless or are in danger of doing so is one way to begin. A huge amount of the basic needs of society are currently being met by charities, and as the charity sector suffers a reduction in giving, so too will those services be impacted. Calling for a more comprehensive safety net for those impacted by the pandemic is another way; we need to oppose the cuts to universal credit, regulate the pay-day loan industry, and increase the amount of social housing.
All of these things must change if we are to have any hope of a future without the long shadow of COVID-19 falling over us. This World Homeless Week (3rd-10th October), it is more important than ever that we stand together to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. To donate to our work, please visit our donation page.