Big Issue founder fears more professionals could be left homeless

The children of struggling firefighters and nurses could become “trapped” in poverty, leaving middle-class families homeless, Big Issue founder Lord Bird said.

The comrade, who was homeless as a child, said the government should declare an emergency like it would in wartime, rather than take a piecemeal approach to helping people in the cost of living crisis.

In an interview with the PA news agency, the 77-year-old said he fears children will be “lost” when families unable to pay rent end up in temporary accommodation, adding that he is “scared” to think of people who refuse to live in an “underclass”.

He said more needs to be done to prevent homelessness, describing it as a “colossal problem” that urgently needs to be addressed “and not ‘okay, let’s do a little here and a little there.'”

The latest official government figures showed that more than 75,000 households were initially assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness in England between July and September last year, up 4% on the same period in 2021.

The number of households threatened with homelessness through a Section 21 no-fault eviction notice, which allows landlords to quickly evict tenants without having to give a reason, increased by more than a third to 6,170.

Lord Bird said the government, which has previously stated its intention to introduce legislation this year to ban such evictions, must “get rid of section 21 immediately”.

With separate figures showing that sleeping on the streets increased by more than a quarter last year, the Government has acknowledged that there is “more to be done to help families at risk of losing their homes and end sleeping on the streets forever”, as he vowed to do. at the end of this speech.

Lord Bird said that as he came from what he described as a “failed family”, he and his siblings had been “socially prepared” for homelessness, but that many facing such circumstances now “would never have dreamed of it”.

Lord Bird has attributed a 10% increase in the number of Big Issue magazine sellers in the past year to rising cost-of-living pressures (Paul Harding/PA)
Lord Bird has attributed a 10% increase in the number of Big Issue magazine sellers in the past year to rising cost-of-living pressures (Paul Harding/PA)

He told PA: “What is happening now is that people who have no idea, who would never have dreamed of seeing themselves in the homeless kind of ghetto, are falling for it. And they are also highly professional people, highly skilled and trained people.”

Comparing it to her own struggles decades ago, she said: “This is a completely different situation when you have children of firefighters or nurses or any other profession who are absolutely stuck, because they can’t make the most of the future.

“So scaling up has to start now, the best they (the government) could be doing is declaring this an emergency.”

Recalling how “devastating” it had been to be homeless at the age of five and to have her education “messed up”, she spoke of her concerns for the next generation of children.

He said: “If you lose your way because you go to school but you live in transitional or temporary accommodation, and your mother and father or your mother or your parents are going through a crisis, then you’re not really going to put your eyes and your Mind what the teacher is doing.

“You are going to miss out and that will have a combined effect. What it will do will also have a class effect, because there will be middle-class people who are, you know, a few paychecks away from poverty. They will descend and decay into this kind of subclass, moving into a dependency class.”

Lord Bird has attributed a 10% rise in the number of Big Issue magazine sellers in the past year to rising cost-of-living pressures and said he fears more “working poor” will need to rely on the magazine in the midst of their financial difficulties.

He called for food hubs instead of food banks, adding: “I really feel like we need the socialization of the social distribution of basic needs, and basic needs are heat, food and that kind of thing.”

He also said there needs to be more support for tenants who have fallen into default, “because if you don’t support them, the costs are huge.”

He said: “An average homeless family that has been evicted will probably cost two to three times as much to keep them in their home. There is not a lot of evidence for homelessness prevention.”


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