The Government must extend the eviction ban if England is to avoid a potential surge in Covid cases, the BMA has warned today.
The Association says that people who are homeless1 are three times more likely to be chronically ill with lung and breathing problems - a serious risk factor in the development of the virus.
Rates of homelessness are expected to increase as the temporary halt on being able to evict those in rent arrears is due to end on Sunday (23rd August). The homeless charity Shelter is estimating 227,000 private renters have fallen into arrears since the pandemic and could lose their homes when the ban is lifted.
Added to this, the number of job losses and incidents of domestic violence continue to rise as a result of the pandemic, also forcing people out of their homes and potentially making them homeless.
While the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative has so far been swift and effective, additional funding for homeless people announced in June is finite, and some contracts between local authorities in London and hotels housing homeless people have already come to an end.
In a paper published today, the BMA is calling for the eviction ban to be extended, and for legislation to place a 12-month duty on local authorities to enable everyone who sleeping rough, who is homeless and cannot self-isolate, or at risk of these eventualities, to have access to safe accommodation.
The BMA also believes it is vital that the Government pays more attention to the ‘hidden homeless’ – those who ‘sofa surf’ in shared accommodation and urgently need more support.
Altogether, the doctors’ union is recommending:
1. The Government must extend the temporary ban of housing evictions beyond the 23rd August to prevent further homelessness arising from Covid-19
2. The Government must introduce emergency legislation and accompanying funding to allow for the continuation of efforts to protect the homeless population from Covid-19
3. Covid-19 has seen excellent collaboration between public services. This must be properly evaluated, and then continued and built upon beyond the pandemic so that homeless people continue to be supported as much as possible
4. The Government’s Covid-19 rough sleeping taskforce must use the ‘Everyone In’ initiative to engage the homeless population in health services by working with NHS England to promote wider access, both in primary and secondary care
Most importantly, the BMA says that such actions need to be done alongside longer-term interventions if the Government wants to meet its commitment to end rough sleeping by 2027.
This includes proactive development of public services, designed alongside homeless people themselves, that uphold homeless people’s right to health.
Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, BMA board of science chair, said: “The Government could be putting thousands of people’s lives at risk by not extending the eviction ban and having future provisions in place. Considering that we are still far from out of the woods with this virus, this is both incredibly short-sighted and potentially dangerous.
“We recognise that the Government has already taken decisive action to keep homeless people safe during this time. However, we desperately need this support to continue. We also need preventative measures to be put in place to help reduce the number of people at risk of losing their homes. This is particularly important as we head deeper into a recession and near the end of the eviction ban.
“Without this, we could see large outbreaks of Covid-19 among the homeless population, not only putting this community at risk, but also the wider population – potentially undoing months of national effort to get a grip of this horrific virus.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “Homelessness can have a devastating impact on every aspect of a person’s life, including their physical and mental health. The stress and anxiety of losing your home combined with difficulty accessing health services without a permanent address can have serious consequences.
“At the start of the pandemic, the Government’s swift action to implement the eviction ban prevented many private renters from being forced into homelessness. It’s extremely worrying that this safety net is about to be pulled away at a time when tens of thousands have lost their jobs and are struggling to cover the cost of rent.
“It’s absolutely crucial that the Westminster government introduces emergency legislation to protect renters from eviction and to guarantee everyone experiencing homelessness with temporary accommodation during this ongoing public health crisis.”
Notes to editors
Notes to Editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.
1. Please click here for the full position statement
For media enquiries please email [email protected] or call 020 7383 6448