Community Engagement

A New Narrative on Homelessness

Everyone deserves a place to call home. At Wayfair, we’re partnering with Shelter England to help make this possible. Here, we talk with Deborah Garvie, Policy Manager at Shelter on how Shelter defends the right to a safe home and tackle the devastating impact the housing emergency has on people and society.


Wayfair: How is it possible that housing has become such a national emergency in the UK?

Deborah Garvie: Failure by successive governments to invest in the genuinely affordable social housing that’s desperately needed by people who struggle to compete in the rental market. In most parts of the country (58%), housing benefit no longer covers the cost of a modest 2-bedroom home. Cuts and restrictions to housing benefit since 2010 mean it’s no longer fit-for-purpose in making private rentals affordable. More than 1 in 5 (58,000) homeless households helped by councils are in work, but it just doesn’t pay enough to afford a family home. So, they were homeless while holding down a job.

Wayfair: Your strategy to eradicate homelessness in the UK spans across different aspects, ranging from providing support and specialist advice for anyone struggling with housing issues or facing homelessness, to campaigning for housing justice through groundbreaking research and your work in local communities. Can you elaborate your approach for us?

Deborah Garvie: Because every year millions of people access our Get Advice webpages, national helpline and network of 11 local hubs, we know the most common problems that the people we work with face, and their causes. In many cases, if people seek our help early, we can help them to avoid homelessness or quickly find a new home. But, in many instances, there are limits to what we can do because our national housing system is failing. That’s where we campaign – to make sure people have stronger rights to access and keep a decent home. We work with our service users to develop solutions and then campaign with them to make it happen. Homelessness should belong to a bygone era – not 21st century England.

Wayfair: The funds raised from our "Save Big, Give Back" sale this summer are going directly to support Shelter’s vital work, protecting people’s right to a safe home through advice, support and campaigning - would you be able to share one example for our readers?

Deborah Garvie: Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve been working tirelessly with very anxious people to make sure they get the help they need to keep safe and avoid homelessness during the pandemic. For example, we advised and advocated for people on the streets during lockdowns. While the government aimed to bring everyone in, we gathered evidence to show that some people were being turned away without emergency accommodation. We worked with Rhys Otoo, who has experience of living on the streets, to campaign for more government funding and clearer guidance that everyone on the streets should be accommodated. Now, we’re joining forces with other charities to call for a COVID-arrears fund to help families at risk of eviction over the winter.

Wayfair: For our readers who want to get involved in the mission to defend the right to safe home: what are some things you suggest they can do in their own communities?

Deborah Garvie: Learn about the biggest problems in your local area. Is it that family homes just aren’t affordable on average incomes or is it that landlords are failing in their legal duties to keep homes up to standard? Help us to raise both awareness and money, so that we can provide the specialist advice and support that people in your area need. Join the fight for home - Shelter England to create a fairer housing system for everyone. Over the past 18 months, we’ve all learned more than ever that home is everything.

Footnote: In 2020/21 58,200 households (22%) owed a homelessness duty were in work. Source: MHCLG, Live tables on homelessness, Statutory homelessness live tables, Table A10