'Welfare reforms fuel rise in homelessness' says National Audit Office

Welfare reforms are partly to blame for the rise in cases of homelessness, according to a report by the public spending watchdog.

The National Audit Office (NAO) also accused the Government of not doing enough to tackle the crisis that has seen a 60% rise in households in temporary accommodation in the last six years.

An overnight count last autumn recorded 4,134 rough sleepers, a 134% hike since the Conservatives took power.

The NAO said the main cause of homelessness in England was now the ending of private sector tenancies.

Rents have gone up at the same time as household incomes from benefits have been cut, it said.

Auditor General Sir Amyas Morse said: "Homelessness in all its forms has significantly increased in recent years, driven by several factors.

"Despite this, government has not evaluated the impact of its reforms on this issue, and there remain gaps in its approach.

"It is difficult to understand why the department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem.

"Its recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money."

NAO analysis found private sector rents in London have gone up by 24% since 2010, eight times the average rise in earnings.

Across England costs have gone up by three times as much as wages, except in the north and East Midlands.

Labour's Meg Hillier, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said: "It is a national scandal that more and more people are made homeless every year.

"This report illustrates the very real human cost of the Government's failure to ensure people have access to affordable housing."

A Government spokesman said: "Tackling homelessness is a complex issue with no single solution, but this Government is determined to help the most vulnerable in society.

"Our welfare reforms restore fairness to the system with a strong safety net in place to support the most vulnerable, including £24bn through the Housing Benefit."

The chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter, Polly Neate, said: "The NAO has found what Shelter sees every day - that for many families our housing market is a daily nightmare of rising costs and falling benefits which is leading to nothing less than a national crisis.

"That's why we are calling on the Government to act now, in this year's Budget, to end the freeze on housing benefit and to commit to building decent homes at affordable rents."

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