Housing

Rough sleeping in London increased 10% since 2022 as cost of living squeezes the most vulnerable

The Conservative manifesto promise to end rough sleeping by 2019 looks almost finished as the cost of living crisis hits households.

Rough sleepers in London are an ever growing sight, despite the Conservative promise to end rough sleeping by 2024. Image: Shaun A Daley/ Alamy

Another Conservative manifesto promise looks on the verge of failure as the number of people with no choice but to sleep rough on the streets of London has increased by almost 10% compared to 2022, new figures show, demonstrating the real impact of squeezed incomes from the cost of living crisis.

There were 3,272 people who slept rough on the streets of the capital between April and June this year, including a 12% increase in new rough sleepers, according to the latest report from the Combined Homelessness & Housing Information Network (Chain).

It follows national figures released last week which showed early 2023 was the worst period on record for homelessness in England, with almost 80,000 households contacting their council for help and 105,000 households living in temporary accommodation.

Alicia Walker, head of policy, research and campaign at youth homeless charity Centrepoint, called the actions taken since the 2019 promise to end rough sleeping amounted to little more than “sporadic policy announcements and piecemeal funding”.

“It’s not surprising the overall number of people seen sleeping rough in London has continued to rise,” Walker said. “Despite falling inflation, young people are still calling our helpline because they’re struggling with the cost of living. What’s more, the little amount of support that has been put in place to help vulnerable households over the last year has not reached enough young people, meaning many are still struggling to afford to both pay their bills and their rent each month. 

“Evictions have also soared since the eviction ban was lifted. Many of the most vulnerable young people don’t have a family to fall back on, so they are left with no other choice but to stay in unsafe places.”

The vast majority of those counted in London (79%) spent only one night sleeping rough, but more than a third of the total were classed as intermittent rough sleepers. More than 400 people (12% of the total) were deemed to be living on the streets from night to night.

The borough of Westminster, which includes Soho, Mayfair, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, had the highest number of rough sleepers by far, although this figure has fallen steadily over the last 10 years.

“We understand that public services are under huge financial pressure at the moment, but it’s not acceptable to leave destitute people on the streets and in harm’s way,” said Nick Redmore, director of the Salvation Army’s homelessness services unit. “It’s for the government to ensure local authorities have the funding and guidance they need to meet their obligations, if it’s to make good on its manifesto promise to end rough sleeping.”

Redmore urged the government and councils to prioritise rough sleepers for housing support and speed up plans to build more homes. Last week Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Housing Secretary Michael Gove repeated their promise to build one million homes before the next election, but campaigners have continued to call for action to address the problem now.

“The quick and decisive measures taken by the government to enable rough sleepers to be housed during lockdown shows what can be achieved when the will is there,” Redmore continued. “Unless the government recognises that the rise in rough sleeping is also an emergency that requires action now, the cost not only to people’s lives, but also to the public purse will become even greater.”

Accurately counting the number of people experiencing homelessness is notoriously difficult, as is assessing the multitude of reasons that could force someone out of their home and on to the streets.

Last week’s figures on the national picture showed that the end of a private rental agreement was the biggest reason given for those who were looking for help because they were on the verge of becoming homeless. The most common reason for the end of the tenancy was because the landlord wanted to sell or re-let the property.

The Renters Reform Bill is intended to give more rights to tenants to protect them from homelessness but it has been painfully slow to make its way through Parliament and into the statute books.

“The time for empty words on building social homes and overdue promises on ending no-fault evictions has long passed,” Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said after the national stats were released. Shelter estimated nearly 25,000 people had been made homeless in the last year because landlords had evicted them via so-called Section 21 “no-fault” evictions.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan called the increase “deeply concerning” and highlighted the increased funding for rough sleeping prevention available in the capital since he came into office.

“But despite this extra support, extraordinary financial pressures and national cuts to the welfare safety net are putting the poorest Londoners at growing risk of homelessness,” they added.

“We need much more national action from the government and better joined up working between departments if we’re to end rough sleeping in London. That’s why the mayor will continue to press ministers to get a grip on the cost of living crisis and restore the social security safety net which helps to stop people becoming trapped in a cycle of homelessness.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Rough sleeping remains well below pre-pandemic levels both nationally and in London, which reflects the progress made during the pandemic, but we know there is more to do.

“That’s why we have committed £2 billion to support our work to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. This includes the Rough Sleeping Initiative 2022-25, which is providing up to £500m over three years, enabling councils to deliver local, tailored rough sleeping services to give those in need the best chance of a safe and sustainable life off the streets.”

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