A survey reveals that the many pressures on vulnerable households created by the pandemic are also having a knock-on impact on local authorities, many of which were nearing breaking point even before the Covid crisis emerged.
More than nine in 10 district councils, which represent cities, towns and urban areas across England, have reported an increase in food bank use in the past year.
In Bradford, three times as much food was distributed from 21 sites during the peak of the demand, compared to pre-Covid levels. Other recent research has suggested that one in five UK schools have set up a food bank since the start of the pandemic. More than a third of teachers said their school delivered food parcels to pupils’ homes.
Most local councils in England have also reported increased numbers of people needing help for homelessness, with warnings that many poorer households will face “disaster” unless emergency support is extended well beyond the pandemic. During 2020-21, 85% of English councils said they had seen an increase in claims from homeless households for temporary accommodation
93% of councils had seen an increase in demand for help with paying council tax. Councils are calling for an increase in the local housing allowance, which is used to calculate the amount of housing benefit tenants can claim. They are also warning that extra council tax support and extra grants may be needed, with council tax increasing across England this year and unemployment set to rise.
Many also saw a rise in demand for help in dealing with disputes between landlords and tenants, according to a survey by the District Councils’ Network (DCN). It has prompted concerns that the evictions ban, put in place during the pandemic and recently extended, is not giving vulnerable households complete protection.
There have already been concerns that almost half a million private tenants who pay more than half their income on rent could be at risk of eviction when the ban ends. Senior figures across local authorities are worried that a further crisis in rough sleeping will emerge when the eviction ban ends at the end of May. Nearly three-quarters of councils anticipate a rise in rough sleeping, and almost nine in 10 districts expect an increase in homelessness.
Two-thirds reported an increase in family disputes requiring mediation
Giles Archibald, the leader of South Lakeland district council warned that the survey findings revealed “the devastating toll of coronavirus on households who have struggled to pay the bills, put food on the table, and keep a roof over their heads. The government has stepped in and provided much-needed additional support for families,” he said. “But while this has been welcome, there are serious concerns that if many measures do not continue, many families will be unable to get by...Without this many families could face disaster.”