A Merseyside MP has spoken of her determination to fight inequalities in Liverpool after new data revealed Black people in our region are more likely to become homeless.
Liverpool Riverside MP Kim Johnson said that Black people in Merseyside are “very vulnerable” to encountering housing problems because they are often in low paid jobs, and more likely to be living precariously on or below the poverty line.
The latest government statistics show Black people in Merseyside are nearly four times more likely to become homeless than white people.
Ms Johnson underlined that the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate the situation further as people will face evictions from rent arrears which have been built up over the past six months, due to people losing their jobs because of the crisis.
According to the latest official government figures, 5,692 households in the Merseyside area were found to be homeless in 2019/20.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that each household was sleeping rough on the street – the definition of homelessness means individuals had no stable accommodation and were forced to seek assistance from their local authority.
This most commonly happens because of eviction due to rent arrears, but can also be the result of relationship breakdown between partners, domestic abuse, or other violence or harassment.
Figures for this period show 186 Black individuals and families were homeless – meaning one in every 34 Black households was affected.
This was nearly four times as high as the rate for White people, with 6,296 individuals and families made homeless – one in every 119 White households.
Rates of homelessness are also higher for other ethnicities, with one in every 100 Asian households in Merseyside made homeless last year (104 in total), and one in every 103 mixed-heritage households (66), as well as one in every 13 households from “other” ethnicities (331).
Asked for her views on the matter, Ms Johnson – who is the city’s first Black MP – told the ECHO that she was “not surprised” that Black people are more likely to become homeless and she promised to take on the government to remedy the situation.
Ms Johnson said: “Homelessness is a real problem in Liverpool. While the Council worked hard to bring in all street sleepers during the pandemic, we still face the possibility of them returning to the streets once the funding runs out.
“Then we face the looming prospect of evictions from rent arrears built up over the past six months by people who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19.
“I am not surprised that Black people are more likely to become homeless – they are often in the lowest paid and insecure jobs, and more likely to be living precariously on or below the poverty line. One emergency, one missed pay packet, and they are very vulnerable.
“I welcome the fact that Liverpool City Council is building new council homes for the first time in 30 years – affordable, good quality housing should be a right, not a hope.
“But we have a long way to go to address the housing situation in this city and for the people of Liverpool, I will keep fighting this Government for the resources we need to do this.”
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October is Black History Month, an annual observance which began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora.
Polly Neate, chief executive of homeless charity Shelter, said it is appalling to see Black people disproportionately impacted by homelessness.
She said “During Black History Month, it is vital we address the deep inequality and systemic racism that persists in the housing system and continues to deny thousands a safe home.
“It is both telling and appalling to see Black people and others who are BAME disproportionately impacted by homelessness.
“We must act fast, because the pandemic we are now enduring is only intensifying the housing emergency and its destructive inequalities.
“We know Black people are more likely to be homeless or live in overcrowded homes putting them at greater risk from this virus.
“But right now, the government is failing to prevent homelessness because it’s not doing enough to increase the number of decent, genuinely affordable, social homes.
“Through social housing, the government has the capacity to provide the sanctuary of a safe home. We can’t allow the legacy of Covid-19 to be one of rising homelessness and shattered lives.”
The situation in Merseyside reflects the picture seen across England – nationally, Black people were more than four times more likely to be made homeless than White people last year.
Charities warn that this and other racial inequalities are being heightened by the pandemic.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “We know that coronavirus has exposed deep-rooted racial inequality within our society.
“This is experienced at every level, from the workplace, to school and sadly to housing as well.
“The answer is a comprehensive race equality strategy to tackle inequality right across society, including in housing.
“We want to work with the Government to put equality and human rights at the heart of decision making, and to ensure that ethnic minorities have better outcomes across the piece.”
In response, an MHCLG spokesperson said: “The Government is committed to ending rough sleeping within this Parliament as part of our work to ensure everyone has the opportunity to access a decent, secure place to call home.
“Nearly a quarter of a million households have had their homelessness successfully prevented or relieved since the Homelessness Reduction Act came into force and we are giving over half a billion pounds to tackle homelessness this year.
“The Government is committed to social housing and has recently announced the details of a new £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme which will deliver up to 180,000 new homes across the country, including for social rent.”