Housing

Number of people sleeping rough in England more than double than when Tories came to power

Homelessness experts have warned there is now 'no doubt' the government will miss its target of ending rough sleeping by 2024 after annual count rises by a quarter

rough sleeping

The Westminster government has been targeting an end to rough sleeping this yearr but figures have surged since the end of Everyone In measures during the pandemic. Image: Mihály Köles / Unsplash

The number of people sleeping rough across England has skyrocketed in the last year leaving “no doubt” that the government will fail its target of ending street homelessness this year, damning official statistics have revealed.

The annual rough sleeping snapshot found an estimated 3,898 people were homeless on the streets on a single night in autumn 2023, up more than a quarter on the 3,069 people counted in 2022.

The rise is the second consecutive annual increase and remains lower than the 2017 peak when frontline workers counted 4,751 people.

But the rise is the latest decisive blow to the 2019 Conservative manifesto promise to end rough sleeping in 2024. In fact, the number of people sleeping rough is more than double the 1,768 counted in 2010 when the party first came into office. Homelessness experts warned figures are on track to hit a new high in 2024.

Alexia Murphy, chief executive of homelessness charity Depaul UK, said: “Tragically, we are now seeing a return of scenes reminiscent of the 1980s, with rough sleeping strikingly present in towns and cities across the country. As an organisation formed in response to the ‘cardboard city’ crisis, this backward slide is heartbreaking to witness.  

“The impact of the cost-of-living crisis, the desperate lack of investment in social housing, and short-sighted Home Office policies that lack planning for the thousands of people leaving asylum accommodation, means the number of people with nowhere to go will continue to rise at an alarming rate. 

“There is no doubt the government will fail to keep its promise to end rough sleeping by the end of this parliament.”

A government spokesperson told the Big Issue: “Whilst we have made good progress and rough sleeping remains below pre-pandemic levels, there is more work to be done to meet our ambition to end it entirely and we will continue to work with local authorities to help people off the streets for good.”

Street homelessness rose across every region of England with London recorded the largest rise in the number of people sleeping rough, up a third from 858 people in 2022 to 1,132 people last year.

Despite the government’s Levelling Up efforts, rough sleeping figures increased by 59% in Yorkshire and Humber, almost half in the north-west of England and 46% in the North East.

Fiona Colley, director of social change at Homeless Link, said: “Everyone deserves a safe place to live and the support they need to keep it. But this appalling spike in rough sleeping points to a situation that is out of control and demands emergency action.

“We cannot allow this lifeline to continue to contract when it is needed more than ever to keep people off the streets. We urge the chancellor to use the Spring Budget to safeguard essential homelessness support by announcing an emergency backdated inflationary uplift to homelessness funding.”

Nick Redmore, director of The Salvation Army’s homeless services, also called for increased funding and for rough sleepers to be added to the priority list for housing rather than facing fines or prison under the Criminal Justice Bill.

He said: “If the government wants to use the law to get people off the streets, then it needs to reform homelessness legislation which currently leaves thousands without shelter and at risk of illness, injury and early death.”

Emma Haddad, chief executive of St Mungo’s, called for a “new political approach” to the crisis while Shelter’s Polly Neate said a “crisis of this magnitude cannot continue”.

Crisis boss Matt Downie described the figures as “a source of national shame” as the charity launched an open letter calling all political parties to commit to ending homelessness over the next decade. The letter has the backing of big-name comedians Aisling Bea, Joe Lycett and Jo Brand as well as actors Imelda Staunton, Sir Jonathan Pryce and Will Poulter.

Homelessness is rising off the streets too.

Another set of statistics released by the government on Thursday showed the number of households living in temporary accommodation continued to surge between July and September 2023.

Around 109,000 households were living in temporary accommodation in September 2023, up 10% on 2022 and 3% higher than the previous quarter.

That increase was even higher for households with children, up almost 13% in a year to 69,680.

The financial burden of rising demand for temporary accommodation is one of the key reasons why councils are facing bankruptcy. Eastbourne Borough Council declared a housing emergency on Wednesday over the crisis.

Councillor Peter Diplock, cabinet member for housing in Eastbourne, said the issue represents an “existential threat” to local government.

Overall, 87,510 households approached local authorities for support between July and September, also up more than 12%.

As news broke that the Renters Reform Bill is at risk of being “watered down”, the government figures showed a 3% increase on the number of households threatened with homelessness after receiving a Section 21 eviction notice with 6,580 households at risk..

Earlier this week the government announced nearly £220m funding for councils to deliver over 800 homes for rough sleepers and help prevent families from becoming homeless 

Homelessness minister Felicity Buchan said: “We are working alongside councils and charities to do all we can to help rough sleepers off the streets and to prevent homelessness.

“Today’s announcement brings the total funding to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping to an unprecedented £2.4bn, meaning we can help thousands of the most vulnerable people and give them the support they need to rebuild their lives.”

Alicia Walker, Centrepoint’s head of policy, research and campaigns, said the money is sorely needed but “does not touch the sides” when it comes to tackling a growing homelessness crisis. 

“Based on what we’re hearing from partners and young people, millions of pounds worth of investment is needed in almost every local authority just to cope with current demand for accommodation, so it’s hard to see how this latest round of money will touch the sides,” said Walker.

“The housing crisis is complex and the government has taken some positive steps, but not enough. We desperately need clearer, cross-government thinking that matches the scale of the issue and helps both those who are homeless and those on the brink.”

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