Big Issue founder fears more professionals could fall into homelessness

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The children of struggling firefighters and nurses could become “caught” in poverty which results in middle class families falling into homelessness, Big Issue founder Lord Bird has said.

The peer, who was homeless as a child, said the Government must declare an emergency as it would in wartime, rather than taking 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 becoming “lost” as families unable to pay rent end up in temporary accommodation, and added that it “frightens” him to think of people declining into an “underclass”.

He said there needs to be more action to prevent homelessness, describing it as a “colossal problem” that needs to be addressed urgently “and not kind of, ‘well, let’s just do a bit here and do a bit there’”.

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

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

With separate figures showing that rough sleeping rose by more than a quarter last year, the Government has acknowledged there is “more to do to help families at risk of losing their homes and to end rough sleeping for good” – as it has pledged to do by the end of this parliament.

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

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 (Paul Harding/PA)
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 (Paul Harding/PA)

Comparing it to his own struggles decades ago, he said: “This is a completely different situation when you get the children of firemen or nurses or any other professions who are absolutely caught, because they cannot make the most of the future.

“So levelling up has to start now, the best bit of levelling up they (the Government) could be doing is declare this as an emergency.”

Recalling how “devastating” it had been to become homeless at five years old and have his education “screwed up”, he told of his concerns for the next generation of children.

He said: “If you lose your way because you are going to school but you’re living in transitional or temporary accommodation, and your mother and father or your mother or parent is going through a crisis, then you’re not really going to be putting your eyes and mind on what the teacher is doing.

“You’re going to be lost and that will have a compound effect. What it will do, it will have a class effect as well, because there will be middle class people who are just, you know, a few cheques away from poverty themselves. They will descend and decline into this kind of underclass, moving into a class of dependency.”

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” need to rely on the magazine amid their financial struggles.

He called for food hubs rather than food banks, adding: “I really feel we need the socialisation of social distribution of basic needs, and basic needs are heat, food and those kind of things.”

He also said there must be more support for renters who have fallen into arrears, “because if you don’t support them, the costs are ginormous”.

He said: “An average homeless family who have been thrown out will probably cost two or three times more than supporting them in their home. There is not much evidence of homeless prevention.”

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