Working families forced to cut back to pay their housing costs
New research by Shelter shows that working parents are struggling to make ends meet, with the equivalent of 880,000 working parents skipping a meal in the past year to pay for their housing costs.
Despite working families doing whatever it takes to keep a roof over their children’s head, the effects of rising housing costs are taking their toll.
The government’s English Housing Survey shows that on average, households spend almost a third of their weekly income on housing costs, rising to two fifths for private renters. What we know now is that the growing proportion of income swallowed up by rent or mortgage payments leaves families with no choice but to cut back on essentials – our research shows that last year 3.1 million working parents had to cut back on what they spend on food.
Just how many cut backs can families make? How long can parents continue to skip a meal in order to pay their rent? And what happens if these families lose their jobs?
If these families, which are living on a knife edge, suffer a setback – such as being made redundant or falling ill – they are likely to have little to rely on in terms of savings. Government support will be vital whilst they look for work. But the housing safety net has been successively weakened over the past few years so, from day one, things are tougher for someone who is newly unemployed.
Previously, the newly unemployed got support with their full rent for 13 weeks. This gave them chance to find employment, without having to worry about getting into debt. Now, those renting privately will only get support to the equivalent of Local Housing Allowance (housing benefit for private renters) rates in their local area. For many families there will be a shortfall between the support they get and their actual rent. Families without an income or savings will struggle to pay that shortfall and could easily be left building up rent arrears.
Under Universal Credit newly unemployed people will not be entitled to any support for the first 7 days of unemployment. Because Universal Credit is paid a month in arrears, this means they will have to wait for 5 weeks for their first payment towards housing costs. We think this unnecessarily exposes struggling families to rent arrears.
On top of that, under current government proposals newly unemployed families in rent arrears will face a hefty 40% deduction from their benefits, until they pay their rent arrears off. This leaves families living on a shoestring.
We know the majority of people think a housing safety net is an essential part of civilised society.
When families fall on hard times there should be government support to help them to get back on their feet – that support should kick in immediately and shouldn’t leave families in arrears and facing eviction.
That’s why we’re asking our supporters to tell the government that we need an adequate safety net.
In the meantime, we want struggling families to know that Shelter can help – because losing your job shouldn’t mean losing your home.