The number of people entitled to homelessness support in South Lakeland surged last year, new figures reveal.

The Local Government Association has urged leaders to provide “desperately needed” social housing, with council homelessness services already under pressure before the Covid-19 crisis hit.

Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government data shows 345 households were assessed as entitled to help from the council in South Lakeland in the year to March.

That was up from 262 in 2018, a rise of 32% over the year.

It reflected the picture across England, where 288,470 households were owed a homelessness prevention or relief duty in the 2019-20 financial year, rising by 7% from 269,500 a year earlier.

David Renard, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesperson, said the figures highlight “increased demand pressures” on councils.

“The long-term impact of coronavirus on council homelessness services, which were already under significant pressures before the pandemic, is currently unclear,” he added.

“It is vital that the Spending Review shifts the Government’s focus towards the key drivers of homelessness, including a lack of affordable housing, welfare-related poverty, and a lack of an integrated prevention approach.”

The figures also show black people were disproportionately affected by homelessness in South Lakeland last year.

Of the lead applicants from households in the area, 1.2% (four) were black, while black households are estimated to make up only 0.2% of the population, according to the latest census.

The ethnicity of eight of the 345 applicants was not recorded or unknown.

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter said “deep inequality and systemic racism” in the housing system needs addressing, and warned the legacy of the coronavirus pandemic must not be one of rising homelessness.

“We must act fast, because the pandemic we are now enduring is only intensifying the housing emergency and its destructive inequalities,” she added.

Across England, a quarter of households owed help to relieve or prevent homelessness included a person in full or part-time work.

Of the lead applicants from these households, 25.9% (74,580) were in employment and 30.5% (88,030) were registered as unemployed.

The Homelessness Reduction Act, introduced in 2018, placed a duty on councils to try to prevent homelessness, and on public bodies to refer those at risk of becoming homeless to the local authority’s housing department.

An MHCLG spokesman said it is ensuring more people get the help they need to prevent them from becoming homeless.

He added: “We’re committed to breaking the cycle of homelessness and ending rough sleeping for good, and the Government has allocated over half a billion pounds this year to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society.”

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