Housing

Rough sleeping has risen by 26% in a year amid the cost of living crisis

The annual “snapshot” count carried out over the winter has shown 3,069 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on any given night. That's the biggest annual increase since 2015

Homelessness

The government promised to end rough sleeping by 2024. Image: KayVee.INC / Flickr

The government has been accused of “going backwards” on its commitment to end rough sleeping by next year after new figures revealed a 26 per cent annual rise.

The annual “snapshot” count carried out over the winter has shown 3,069 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on any given night.

This is the biggest year-on-year increase in rough sleeping since 2015, and up by one quarter on the 2021 figure, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities (DLUHC) study shows. Only those sleeping outdoors or in buildings that are not suitable for habitation are counted, meaning the true figure is also likely to be much higher.

“This shocking rise in the number of people sleeping rough represents a massive, collective failure. People are being let down by systems that should protect them, forced onto the streets at the expense of their physical and mental health,” said Rick Henderson, CEO at Homeless Link.

Henderson cited the figures as “evidence of how the cost of living crisis has exacerbated long standing drivers of homelessness,” such as the “shortage of affordable housing, an often punitive welfare system and increasingly stretched health services.” He also lamented the “financial pressures” facing homelessness services across the country.

The number of people living on the streets fell in England during the pandemic, when the government’s Everyone In programme provided emergency accommodation for people experiencing homelessness.

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird said: “A 26 per cent rise in homelessness is a failure of this government to protect the people who need support the most. During lockdown it was made clear that rough sleeping can be stopped when there is the will there. Yet, instead, this support has been taken away, at a time when the cost of living is at an all-time high, which will push even more people into homelessness.

“What is clear to me is that, for the first time in my lifetime, we are seeing key workers such as nurses and firefighters accessing food banks. My worry is that these people will this year be unable to pay their rents or mortgages.

“This is why it is critical we act now and put the safety nets in place to not only help those who have already been pushed into homelessness, but also the families and individuals currently balancing on the precipice of homelessness.”

Alicia Walker, head of policy, research, and campaigns, at Centrepoint said the cost of living crisis “has pushed many people to breaking point”, leading to an increase in rough sleeping.

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DLUHC’s report counts those who are sleeping rough on a single night between October 1 and November 30 2022. The 2022 figure is 74 per cent higher than the number in 2010.

All the data provided by DLUHC is independently verified by Homeless Link to ensure reliability, but it is difficult to quantify how many people are homeless as there are many different types of homelessness.

People who are in temporary accommodation, hostels, shelters, or sofa surfing with friends and relatives can also be considered homeless, but are not included in the DLUHC’s statistics.

Research from housing and homelessness charity Shelter published in January revealed at least 271,0000 people are recorded as homeless in England – of which 123,000 are children – while 68 per cent of families have been living in temporary accommodation for over a year.

This figure is expected to rise to 300,000 this year, according to homelessness charity Crisis.

London and Luton have been recorded as having the highest rates of homelessness across the country, while one in 74 people are homeless in Manchester and one in 78 people in Brighton and Hove are homeless.

Those described as experiencing “hidden homelessness” are regularly slipping through the cracks of any recorded statistics of homelessness from the government or charitable organisations. 

Crisis estimated that as many as 62 per cent of homeless people are not recorded on any official figures.

Despite goals to curb homelessness in England, the figures show that more and more people are experiencing homelessness due to the rising cost of living, stagnating wages, and no-fault evictions. 

Shelter reports almost 230,000 private renters have received a section 21 notice since 2019, when the government said it would ban them, while data also published on Tuesday by the DLUHC found 6,170 households are at risk of being made homeless due to evictions.

That same year, the Conservative Party promised to end rough sleeping by 2024 in its election manifesto.

As part of this promise, the government pledged £2 billion over three years to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, working out to around £640 million per year. £500 million of that funding will be spent on the Rough Sleeping Initiative, providing 14,000 beds for rough sleepers and 3,000 support staff.

But, this funding has not been uplifted to match rising inflation, prompting criticism from Homeless Link. The charity previously found there were 39 per cent fewer accommodation providers and 26 per cent fewer bed spaces for homeless people in 2021 compared to 2010 – with funding cited as one of the key reasons.

“These figures confirm the grim reality that the Westminster government will fail to meet its commitment to end rough sleeping by next year. The fact that homelessness is once again on the rise frankly shames our society and if alarm bells weren’t ringing across Government they should be now,” said Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis.

Downie and Crisis are calling for urgent investment in increasing housing benefits as well as providing legal protection for renters by scrapping no-fault evictions.

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A DLUHC spokesperson told The Big Issue: “Over half a million households have been prevented from becoming homeless or supported into settled accommodation since 2018 and rough sleeping remains well below pre-pandemic levels. But we know there is more to do to help families at risk of losing their homes and to end rough sleeping for good.”

DLUHC also confirmed that abolishing section 21 evictions remains a priority, and that the £2bn previously pledged to tackle homelessness will be put towards “financial support for people to find a new home, working with landlords to prevent evictions or providing temporary accommodation, among other preventative measures.”

“This is on top of the £37bn of government support for those struggling with increased costs and £11.5bn to deliver thousands of affordable homes for rent and to buy across the country,” the spokesperson added.

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