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The private landlord monopoly and lack of affordable housing is crippling Bristol’s gig economy workers.

“We speak to families all the time who are faced with the unforgiving reality of holding down a job despite having nowhere stable to live” says Penny Walster, Hub Manager at housing charity Shelter Bristol.

According to a 2017 report by the same charity, 97% of Bristol’s homeless are not rough sleepers, rather they are people stuck in hostels and temporary accommodation. Despite being homeless, many people are in work. They are Bristol’s working homeless. And across the south west, 37% of homeless families in temporary accommodation are in work – an increase of 80% since 2013.

“Despite working all the hours they can, these are families who’ve been driven over the edge by expensive private rents, a chronic lack of social homes and punishing housing benefit cuts”, says Walster. “Not only are they going through the trauma of losing their home, many are also being uprooted and torn away from the friends and communities they’ve known for years.

“We see lots of families who simply can’t afford the going rate for even a modest rented home any more”

We see lots of families…. especially those in low paid or contract jobs… who simply can’t afford the going rate for even a modest rented home any more. Something has to change to give struggling families a better deal on housing.”

When push comes to shove, private landlords are generally reluctant to let to someone with a precarious job and no guaranteed salary. Prospective tenants are often subject to extensive financial screening to gauge their ‘suitability’.

This leaves the many precarious workers on zero hours contracts scrambling for housing, with limited options available. Some Deliveroo drivers have even reportedly resorted to using hostels after a night shift. Jed, 25, is a member of the Bristol Courier Network, whose members have recently been striking over working conditions at  Deliveroo and Uber Eats.

“I’ve always been on a zero hours contract since I came to Bristol,” Jed tells me. “When trying to get a house you get turned down a lot. When one contract came to an end I just couldn’t find anywhere that would accept me. There needs to be legislation for tenants to secure housing when the market is all private landlords. You feel powerless and this parallels with how the job itself can feel. You just have this App which acts like a faceless boss with no human emotions.”

“Without a support network behind me, I’d have been in a lot of trouble. I’m lucky to have friends in the city who let me sleep on their sofa and a family around.”

“Without a support network behind me, I’d have been in a lot of trouble. I’m lucky to have friends in the city who let me sleep on their sofa and a family around in this country. This isn’t the same for everyone” says Jed.

A 2016 study found that one in three families are a month’s pay from losing their homes. Beyond the precarity of insecure work, one is more likely to end up homeless if you grew up in care, are a victim of domestic abuse,  or a migrant – to name a few.

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Rob, a trustee and resident at Help Bristol’s Homeless, a charity providing temporary accommodation until users can find a temporary home, believes that if everything falls through, people should be given their own personal space and some time to get back on their feet. The scheme in Bedminster provides shipping container apartments for people who’ve fallen on hard times. It has grown exponentially over the past year, with an increase from 6 to 22 apartments available.

Six years ago Rob fell victim to the gig economy. He was working as a chef until he became homeless after the breakdown of his relationship and was immediately let go by the agency providing him work. After some time sleeping rough, Rob was invited by Help Bristol’s Homeless founder, Jasper Thompson, to live on their Malago Road site and now helps others find their feet.

“When you’re homeless you should be able to go to the council and declare yourself homeless and they should have the resources. A little bedsit or a studio flat – anything that’s yours where you can shut the world out, you shouldn’t have to be in a room with ten other people. That compounds your misery and sense of worth.”

“What we can do here is give people the opportunity to save some money so when you’re ready to move on you can,” Rob tells the Cable.

The site is anything but quiet, with housing deliveries and herds of people helping out. Residents come  from all walks of life, from qualified plumbers to company secretaries, with some currently in work. “One of the lads living here would get up at 4am and go driving every day,” says Rob. “We have a young lad at the moment who’s a chef, he’s at work right now. Everyone keeps busy.”

Bristol’s housing market  is clearly oversaturated with private providers who are reluctant to house gig economy workers. “It’s the lack of affordable housing.” says Rob.

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Penny Walster agrees, “If we had enough secure, affordable social housing in this country, we could stop more families from slipping through the cracks and solve our housing crisis for good. That’s why Shelter is calling on the government to invest in a major house building programme to deliver 3.1 million social homes over the next twenty years.”

Without major government action, Shelter predicts that by 2040 as many as one-third of 60-year-olds could be renting privately, facing unaffordable rent increases or eviction at any point.

Anyone needing housing advice and support in Bristol can call 0344 515 1430 to make an appointment at Shelter’s Bristol hub, New Bond House, Bond Street. For more information, visit england.shelter.org.uk/get_help/local_services/bristol.

Help Bristol’s Homeless are raising £50,000 to develop their new Spring Street site. For more information visit helpbristolshomeless.org/spring-street-fundraising-campaign/

*March issue 2019, p23

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