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The cold, hard facts about homelessness in 2021 Britain

Experts worry about a looming crisis of homelessness. These are the rough sleeping figures and homelessness facts you need to know.

Despite living in the world’s fifth biggest economy, people are still living with no place to call their home in this country. This injustice must end.

But until you can tackle a problem, you must first learn the scale of the issue. That’s why it is vital that we know the facts and figures about homelessness.

Here are the numbers you need to know:

How many people are homeless?

  • In terms of street homelessness, official rough sleeping statistics showed the number of people living on the streets fell in England during the Covid-19 pandemic with an estimated 2,688 people sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2020.
  • This was a 37 per cent decrease on the 4,266 people record in 2019 and was the third straight year in which the count showed a decrease.
  • However, the 2020 figure was still 52 per cent higher than the 1,247 people counted as sleeping rough in 2010. Rough sleeping has increased steadily over the last decade.
  • The majority of people sleeping rough in England are male, aged over 26 years old and from the UK.
  • However, the figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are thought to be an underestimate as they are based on single-night snapshot accounts and estimates. Lucy Abraham, chief executive of London homelessness charity Glass Door, told The Big Issue in response to the 2020 figures: “We need to be critical of using what is essentially a best guess of what rough sleeping looks like on a given night as a proxy for how many people are actually homeless in the UK.”
  • The London-only Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) figures are considered to be more accurate and show that 10,726 people were seen on the streets in London by outreach workers in 2019/20. The most recent CHAIN figures found 3,307 people on the streets of the English capital between October and December 2020, a nine per cent fall when compared to the same period in 2019.
  • In Wales, official rough sleeping statistics show that 405 people slept rough across the country between October 14 and 27, 2019.
  • And while Scotland doesn’t use the same method as England and Wales, data from the Scottish Household Survey suggests just over 700 people bedding down on the streets in a single night.
  • As for wider homelessness in England, 288,470 households were owed assistance from councils to prevent or relieve homelessness in 2019-20. The latest figures showed 68,680 households approached councils for support between July and September 2020 following the first national Covid-19 lockdown while a further 93,490 households were living in temporary accommodation.
  • For Wales 9,993 households needed support for homelessness.
  • In Scotland, there were 18,645 applications for homelessness assistance between April and September 2019 – a decrease of two per cent compared to the same six-month period in 2018.

Spending on homelessness

  • Local authority expenditure on homelessness-related services has reduced significantly as compared to expenditure ten years ago; in 2008/9, £2.9 billion (in current prices) was spent on homelessness-related activity, while in 2018/19, £0.7 billion less was spent (Homeless Link)
  • In 2018/19, nearly £1 billion less was spent on support services for single homeless people than was spent in 2008/09 (Homeless Link)

Homelessness and Covid-19

  • The UK government has spent around £700m on homelessness and rough sleeping during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • The government’s Everyone In scheme has protected more than 37,000 people during the pandemic. As of January 2021, 11,263 people remained in emergency accommodation and 26,167 people had been moved on to permanent accommodation through the scheme.
  • The government has promised 6,000 long-term homes will be made available to help rough sleepers protected from the virus, including 3,300 by next March
  • In Scotland, £50m has been spent by the Scottish Government on hardship funding and £22m on the Scottish Welfare Fund to tackle homelessness during the Coid-19 pandemic. Additionally, more than £875,000 has been spent providing support for people who are living with no recourse to public funds and cannot claim benefits
  • The Welsh Government’s initial spent £10m on providing accommodation to over 800 people at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This was followed up with £20m to ensure that people did not have to return to the streets once the pandemic has ended

Homelessness and health

  • Three quarters of homeless people quizzed in a 2014 Homeless Link survey reported a physical health problem
  • Meanwhile, 80 per cent of respondents reported some form of mental health issue, while 45 per cent had been officially diagnosed with a condition
  • 39 per cent said they take drugs or are recovering from a drug problem, while 27 per cent have or are recovering from an alcohol problem.
  • 35 per cent had been to A&E and 26 per cent had been admitted to hospital in the six months before they took part in the survey

What is hidden homelessness?

Hidden homelessness is the term used to describe people who do not have a permanent home and instead stay with friends or family.

Also known as sofa surfing, many people in this situation may not consider themselves homeless and may not seek support from services. This makes it difficult to know exactly how many people are homeless, especially as they are not on the streets like rough sleepers and, therefore, not visible to frontline homelessness outreach workers.

Homelessness charity Crisis has estimated that as many as 62 per cent of single homeless people do not show up on official figures and run the risk of slipping through the cracks.

How do most people who are homeless die?

Nearly one in three people die from treatable conditions, according to a 2019 University College London study. Researchers warned that more preventative work was needed to protect physical health and long-term condition management, especially for more common conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

Homeless deaths have only been counted in recent years. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s pioneering Dying Homeless project counted the deaths of 796 people in 18 months before handing over the project to the Museum of Homelessness in March 2019.

MOH’s latest count revealed 976 people died across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2020 – a rise of 37 per cent on the previous 2019 tally.

The count showed only three per cent of deaths were related to the Covid-19 virus with suicide accounting for 15 per cent of deaths and drug and alcohol abuse contributing to 36 per cent of cases where a cause of death was confirmed.

MOH used a combination of freedom of information requests, local news reports and submissions from the public to produce a count covering all kinds of homelessness, ranging from rough sleeping to people living in hostels and temporary accommodation. That method differs from the official counts where death certificates are analysed for signs a person died without a stable home.

The first official Office for National Statistics figures for England and Wales arrived three months before the end of TBIJ’s project, reporting 597 estimated deaths in 2017. The most recent count reported 778 people died without a secure home in 2019.

The first-ever official homeless deaths count in Scotland arrived in 2020 using a similar methodology to the Office for National Statistics and estimated 195 people died without a permanent home in 2018. The latest count reported a 10 per cent increase in deaths with an estimated 216 people dying in 2019.

How can we stop homelessness?

The urgent response to the first national Covid-19 lockdown has already shown that a lot can be achieved when the political will is there.

The Big Issue has launched the Ride Out Recession Alliance to help people who have lost their job during the pandemic through no fault of their own back into work and prevent them from falling into poverty.

The RORA Jobs and Training programme is a one-stop shop with everything you need to get back into work.

The RORA toolkit includes access to free or discounted training – including a 20 per cent discount on selected courses with online training provider FutureLearn. A free three-month digital subscription to The Big Issue is also bundled in alongside a weekly newsletter with tips on job hunting.

The Big Issue Jobs site, put together with the help of jobs board Adzuna features thousands of jobs as well as tips and advice on how to land your next role.

You can support the alliance by sharing your ideas and experiences at rora@bigissue.com.

You can keep the pressure on the politicians too by writing to your local MP, AM or MSP urging them to keep ending homelessness top of the agenda in parliament.

You can also give your time or money to volunteer and donate to help homeless charities doing vital work to help and house people affected by homelessness. There are tons of ways to help, even just by donating your coat to help out in winter.

And, of course, you can buy The Big Issue magazine to help us support vendors all over the UK, giving them the means to lift themselves out of poverty. Covid-19 lockdowns mean that vendors are currently off the streets across England, Wales and Scotland. But you can still support them by subscribing to the magazine and you can even make sure your money goes to your regular vendor by finding them on our vendor map.