Homelessness facts and statistics: The numbers you need to know in 2024

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

Homelessness is a big issue affecting hundreds of thousands of people across the UK and, in recent times, the numbers have only been increasing in 2024.

The cost of living crisis and the housing crisis in the UK means more people are facing homelessness. It’s an issue that should remain at the forefront of our minds as a society, not just when World Homeless Day comes around on 10 October every year.

Despite living in the world’s sixth biggest economy, people are still living with no place to call their home in this country, whether it be sleeping rough, sofa surfing or any other type of homelessness. This injustice must end.

Some leaders have pledged to end it. The Westminster government has pledged to end rough sleeping in England by the end of 2024 – a milestone that is almost certain to be missed.

Meanwhile, London mayor Sadiq Khan promised to end rough sleeping in the city by 2030 before his re-election. Big Issue Group’s blueprint for change is calling for that goal to be replicated across the UK.

But before 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?

  • An estimated 3,898 people were counted as sleeping rough across England on a single night in autumn 2023. The official rough sleeping snapshot was up more than a quarter on the 3,069 people counted in 2022 and is more than double the 1,768 people on the streets in 2010 when the Conservatives first came to power.
  • The majority of people sleeping rough in England are male, aged over 26 years old and from the UK. Meanwhile the Office for National Statistics found men who are living on the street outnumber women at a ratio of six to one.
  • The London-only Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain) figures are considered to be more accurate than the official one-night count. The most recent annual count showed 10,053 rough sleepers spotted on London’s streets between April 2022 and March 2023. A total of 4,118 people were counted between January and March 2024 for the most recent quarterly update, rising by a third in just a year.
  • In Wales, the official rough sleeping count was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Since then, official monthly management statistics have taken its place. The most recent count showed an estimated 121 people were sleeping rough across the country as of February 2024.
  • Scotland doesn’t use the same method as England and Wales. The most recent statistics showed 2,438 households who applied for council homelessness support between April 2022 and March 2023 reported sleeping rough during the previous three months. Meanwhile, 1,500 households reported being street homeless the night before they applied
  • Women are often missing from rough sleeping counts because they tend to be less visible than male rough sleepers due to the risk of violence on the streets. That means women are more likely to seek shelter in cafes, transport hubs or other places rather than bedding down outside.
  • A coalition of homelessness and women’s organisations in London joined forces to tackle the issue in October 2022. Their first national census across England found the number of people sleeping rough could be as much as nine times higher than the official rough sleeping count. In the 41 areas covered in the census, frontline teams found 816 female rough sleepers compared to just 189 covered in the official count.
  • As for wider homelessness in England, English councils supported 317,430 households to prevent or relieve homelessness between in 2023 – a record high.
  • The number of households living in temporary accommodation in England is also at an all-time high. As of the end of 2023, 112,660 households were living in temporary accommodation, including 146,800 children.
  • For Wales, the latest statutory homelessness figures showed 15,306 applications for support from local authorities with homelessness between April and September 2023. Meanwhile, 5,700 households were living in temporary accommodation.
  • Scotland’s latest official statistics revealed that 30,272 open homelessness cases were on local authority books between April and September 2023. A further 15,625 households were living in temporary accommodation, including 9,860 children, up 8% in a year.

Spending on homelessness

  • The UK government is spending £2billion over three years in tackling homelessness and rough sleeping. That breaks down to around £640m a year as it looks to deliver on a Conservative manifesto promise to end rough sleeping by 2024.
  • As part of its strategy to achieve that goal, £500m will be spent on the Rough Sleeping Initiative over the next three years to offer 14,000 beds for rough sleepers and 3,000 staff to provide support. A further £200m will be spent on the Single Homelessness Accommodation Programme to provide 2,400 long-term supported homes for people with the most complex needs.
  • Homeless Link, the national membership charity for frontline homelessness organisations, criticised the UK government for not uplifting funding to match rising inflation. The group found there were 39% fewer accommodation providers and 26% fewer bed spaces for people experiencing homelessness in England in 2021 compared to 2010 with funding cited as one of the main reasons for the decline.
  • The Scottish government has a multi-year Ending Homelessness Together fund of £100m which is being used to deliver on its strategy to end homelessness between 2018/19 and 2025/26.
  • Wales, too, has a strategy to end homelessness. The Ending Homelessness Action Plan is backed by £30m in funding over five years.

Homelessness and health

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

What do people think about homelessness?

The general public consider homelessness a serious problem in the UK, according to a poll carried out in January 2023 by Ipsos Mori and the Centre for Homelessness Impact.

Of the 2,152 UK adults quizzed for the poll, three-quarters said they expected the issue to increase in the country they live in over the next 12 months.

However, there were misconceptions around the reality of homelessness in the UK. People expected just over half of those currently experiencing homelessness to be living with alcohol or drug dependency when in reality that is not the case, even for rough sleepers.

There remains a stigma around homelessness. A recent poll from homelessness charity House of St Barnabas found 70% of Brits don’t consider unsuitable accommodation a form of homelessness, despite lacking a secure place to live fitting the definition of statutory homelessness.

Less than half of those quizzed considered sofa-surfing or staying with relatives or friends as homelessness while 82% told the charity they wouldn’t know what to do if they found out someone who knew was homeless.

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% of single homeless people do not show up on official figures and run the risk of slipping through the cracks.

The Office for National Statistics carried out a review into the scale of hidden homelessness across the UK in March 2023 but statisticians noted that the available information means “it is not currently possible to estimate the true scale of hidden homelessness across the UK”.

However, the review showed that hidden homelessness could take many forms: whether it be sofa surfing, living in unconventional structures like mobile homes or outbuildings, squatting or overcrowded accommodation.

The review also showed that women, young people and ethnic minority groups are more likely to find themselves affected by hidden homelessness.

Statisticians noted that only 15% of women were included in the government’s official rough sleeping snapshot and said it was “unlikely to reflect the true scale of women sleeping rough”.

As for young people, the ONS referred to Centrepoint’s research from 2019 that showed only 5% of the 91,521 people aged under 25 who approached their local authority for help with homelessness were identified as homeless according to the statutory definition. This means young people who do not get support are forced to find alternative accommodation and more likely to experience hidden homelessness, researchers concluded.

There was less data available to show the scale of ethnic minority households experiencing hidden homelessness. But the ONS did refer to the English Housing Survey’s findings showing that minority households are more likely to live in overcrowded households.

The ONS did confirm it is currently working on ways to count the number of women experiencing hidden homelessness. Statisticians are also looking at examples of how other countries are tackling the issue, such as Denmark’s methods of mapping homelessness and Australia’s use of its census.

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 count recorded 1,313 deaths across the UK in 2022 – that represented a 2% rise compared to 2021 when 1,286 people died.

MOH was not able to establish the cause of death for every person who died in 2022. But the group did find 36% of deaths where a cause was established were related to drugs and alcohol and 10% died by suicide. Both rates were similar to 2021 levels.

MOH director Matt Turtle said: “With a heavy heart we expect to report more of the same in 2024, but with our colleagues we will continue to do what we can to save lives.”

Overall, more than 4,000 deaths across the UK have been counted by the Dying Homeless project since 2019.

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 688 people died without a secure home in 2020 with Covid accounting for just 13 deaths.

The ONS consulted on plans to discontinue homeless deaths statistics in early 2024 – citing concerns over accuracy – but ultimately U-turned following calls for the figures to remain.

The first-ever official homeless deaths count in Scotland arrived in 2020 using a similar methodology to the ONS.

The latest count reported an almost-20% increase in deaths with an estimated 256 people dying without a stable home in 2020. Despite the pandemic, no deaths were attribute to Covid-19 with drug-related deaths dominating the figures.

How can we stop homelessness?

Homelessness is a complex issue and, as a result, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

It takes effort to remove the reason why someone is homeless and also treatment for the trauma and mental toll of homelessness.

More broadly, there also needs to be efforts to address the systemic drivers of homelessness and that also takes political will to focus the sufficient resources in the areas where they will make a difference.

Homelessness experts, charities and organisations propose plenty of changes to how society operates to end homelessness for good. That includes tackling drivers of homelessness evictions from private rental homes, benefits that don’t keep pace with inflation and unaffordable housing. Other solutions, like Housing First, are aimed at helping people off the streets.

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.

If you see a person experiencing homelessness on the street in England and Wales, you can contact Streetlink to connect them with support services.

And, of course, you can buy or subscribe to The Big Issue magazine to help us support vendors all over the UK, giving them the means to lift themselves out of poverty.

Big Issue Group is also going beyond the magazine in its mission of Changing Lives Through Enterprise. Find out more here.

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