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Homelessness facts and statistics: The numbers you need to know in 2023

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 sixth biggest economy, people are still living with no place to call their home in this country. This injustice must end.

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.

After the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, households are facing a cost of living crisis in 2022 which could push even more people to the brink of homelessness. The Big Issue is battling to help them keep their home.

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 2,440 people sleeping rough counted on a single night in autumn 2021.
  • That’s down by 250 people or 9 per cent from 2020 and almost half the peak recorded in 2017. But it remains 670 people or 38 per cent higher than in 2010.
  • 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 count. The most recent annual count showed 8,239 rough sleepers were spotted on London’s streets between April 2021 and March 2022. That was down by a quarter on the 11,018 recorded in the previous year.
  • The most recent quarterly Chain figures showed 3,570 people were sleeping rough in London between October and December 2022 – a 21 per cent rise on the same period in 2021. The surge was driven by the cost of living crisis with almost half of the people spotted by outreach workers (around 1,700) sleeping rough for the first time.
  • 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 160 people were sleeping rough across the country as of September 2022.
  • Scotland doesn’t use the same method as England and Wales. The most recent statistics showed 1,184 people who applied for council homelessness support between April and September 2022 reported sleeping rough during the previous three months. Meanwhile, 733 applicants reported being street homeless the night before they applied.
  • As for wider homelessness in England, English councils helped more than 278,000 households to prevent or relieve homelessness between April 2021 and March 2022. That’s 16 per cent higher than the previous year but 9 per cent down on pre-Covid levels.
  • For Wales, the latest statutory homelessness figures showed 11,704 households were assessed as homeless or owed a duty by local councils to help them into secure accommodation between April 2021 and March 2022. That an 11 per cent decrease on the number of households who needed support in 2020/21
  • Scotland’s latest official statistics revealed that 15,414 households were assessed as homeless between April and September 2022. That is a 6 per cent increase on the same period last year and up to a similar level as before the pandemic. Overall there are 28,944 households with open applications for support with homelessness – 11 per cent higher than the same period in 2021 and the highest number on record.

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 per cent fewer accommodation providers and 26 per cent 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 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
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What do people think about homelessness?

A poll from Ipsos Mori and the Centre for Homelessness Impact, published in April 2021, set out to understand the British public’s perception of homelessness.

The research found just under nine in ten people agreed homelessness is a serious problem in the UK and almost three quarters said they believe it does not get the attention it deserves.

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The British public also believe homelessness is a consequence of societal issues outside a person’s control than down to a person’s poor choices, with 52 per cent blaming wider problems in the poll compared to 17 per cent on the individual.

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More than half (56 per cent) saw homelessness as affecting the whole of society, compared to 20 per cent believing it only impacts on the person experiencing it.

The public also supported investing money in preventing homelessness rather than paying to deal with the issue when it reaches crisis stage with 61 per cent in favour of that approach.

The study is part of the Centre for Homelessnes Impact’s End it with Evidence campaign with polling company Ipsos Mori, aiming to use data to bring about a sustainable end to homelessness.

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.

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MOH’s latest count revealed 1,286 people died across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2021 – a rise of a third on the 2020 tally and 80 per cent than the first annual figure the campaigners published in 2019.

More than 90 per cent of deaths with known circumstances occured in insecure housing while Covid-19 played a small role in only seven deaths.

In total, more than 40 per cent of deaths were related to alcohol abuse while 12 per cent were due to suicide.

Responding to the figures, MOH co-founder Jess Turtle said: “These findings are a hammer blow. It’s heart-breaking to see so many people dying and to feel so helpless in the face of such a serious emergency.”

She added: “There needs to be a confidential enquiry into the deaths of homeless people to allow an honest appraisal of what’s happening to the UK’s most vulnerable people. There should also be mandatory fatality reviews for all local authorities – so lessons can be learned from each death.”

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 first-ever official homeless deaths count in Scotland arrived in 2020 using a similar methodology to the Office for National Statistics.

The latest count reported an almost-20 per cent 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?

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

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.

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.

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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