Homelessness a ‘major issue’ for employers, new figures suggest

One in four households without permanent accommodation contain someone in employment

Homelessness is a “major issue'' employers must get to grips with, experts have warned, as government figures revealed that more than a quarter of those who are homeless or facing homelessness are in work.

Of 263,720 households in England given support from local authorities because they were homeless or under threat of homelessness in the year to April, some 71,210 (27 per cent) had one or more individuals in work.

The figures, from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, also showed that more than half of these households had a member in full-time employment. This equated to 14 per cent of all homeless households.

Homelessness is a hugely complex issue, with the majority of cases the result of relationship breakdown or the inability of friends and family to support those at risk.

But workplaces can be either an additional stressor or a major source of support, and in light of the statistics experts called on employers to be more aware of the issue.

Jessica Rose, employment campaign manager at Business in the Community, urged employers to take action to minimise potential stress on those who could be at risk of homelessness. “As people face mounting pressures such as housing costs and financial insecurity, responsible employers can play a role in preventing these pressures from turning into a crisis,” she said.

“Homelessness is now a major issue for workplaces around the country,” Rose said, adding that employers could provide sustainable employment and reduce the risk of homelessness among staff by offering fairer pay and benefits, job security and flexibility, and training and progression opportunities.

Charles Cotton, performance and reward adviser at the CIPD, said an employer’s ability to support workers depended partly on size: “If you’re an SME, you could raise awareness among employees of where they can find external support. If you’re a large firm, you could offer financial awareness courses.

“It’s also important to create an environment of trust, so employees feel they can talk to their line manager or HR about their financial difficulties without feeling they are being judged.

“Of course, this assumes that employers see the financial wellbeing of employees as their concern. As well as the moral argument that they should, there is also the business case that those with financial stress can be less productive.”

Cotton also emphasised the need for people professionals to be aware that while new starters could often face financial pressures because of the cost of living and commuting, finding accommodation could be a struggle for anyone. “It shouldn’t be assumed that older or higher-paid employees are less susceptible,” he added.

The statistics also showed regional disparities in the percentage of working homeless people across England.

The proportion of households facing homlessness who were in work rose to almost a third in London and the south-east (29 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively), while in the north-east figures were below the English average, at 16 per cent. 

Some councils saw even higher figures. In East Dorset, between January and March this year, 35 of the 67 households (52 per cent) granted assistance because they were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless were in work.

Greg Mangham, founder of Only a Pavement Away, a charity that helps those struggling with homelessness into employment in the hospitality industry, said it had worked with people from a range of employment backgrounds, including private equity and banking.  

Mangham highlighted the need for empathy from employers towards those who might be showing signs of struggling. “If someone’s late for work every week then, yes, you’ve got to keep equity with the rest of the team,” he said. “But maybe try and find out why they’re late for work. 

“It might be something that’s bothering them personally that causes them to be late. Don’t just dismiss them – see if you can support them.”