My Lords, many people risk eviction because the pandemic means that they cannot afford to pay their rent. The Resolution Foundation found that 32% of private renters of working age have seen their earnings hit, and one in eight private renters have fallen behind in their rent since the pandemic started, with figures much higher for benefit recipients.
Renters who have claimed benefits during the pandemic are almost three times as likely to be struggling with housing costs. Many are shocked to find that benefits do not cover their rent. After years of freezes, the Chancellor announced that a local housing allowing will cover “at least 30%” of market rents in your area, but for many people, that is not true. The Commons Library brief says that
“the caps still bite at a lower level than the 30th percentile for half of the local housing association rates in central and inner London.”
Meanwhile, the number of households hit by the benefit cap increased by 93% in the quarter to May, driven by a 600% increase in the number of universal credit households being capped due to the pandemic. So much of this is driven by high housing costs. Ministers always say that you can beat the cap by getting a job—but what jobs?
Ministers have given some extra funding, and that is good, but it is clearly not enough. Labour has called for Ministers to act, asking them not to ditch the furlough scheme but to adapt it; to extend the universal credit top-up of £20 a week to legacy benefits; to suspend the benefit cap; to remove the two-child limit; and to end the five-week wait for universal credit, which is a massive driver of housing arrears.
I support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. Only this week, my church told me that homeless people are now being seen back on the streets of Durham. If Ministers do not address the underlying financial problems facing so many people in this pandemic, I am afraid that we will see a lot more people losing their homes before it is over. I urge the Government to act.