Housing

'Sharp rise in homelessness' expected as cost of living crisis bites

New figures from charity Shelter show the stark increase in homelessness in 2022 even before the cost of living came into full effect.

The number of people living in temporary accommodation has risen by 74% in 10 years. Image: Kevin Wong/Flickr

There are at least 271,000 people experiencing homelessness in England, including more than 120,000 children, according to new research, in the latest example the toll the cost of living crisis is taking on people in the UK.

Housing and homelessness charity Shelter’s analysis of data from local authorities shows 2,400 people were sleeping rough on any given night in summer 2022 and nearly 250,000 were living in temporary accommodation. That number has increased by 74 per cent since 2012, but the true number of people without a place of their own to call home is expected to be far higher.

“The new year should be a time of hope, but this isn’t the case for the homeless people who are facing a truly bleak 2023,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter.

“A cold doorway or a grotty hostel room is not a home, but this is reality for too many people today.”

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The UK is widely believed to have already entered a recession, as Brexit, Russia’s war in Ukraine, rising energy prices, rampant inflation, the fallout from the pandemic, and catastrophic fiscal policy under Liz Truss’s short-lived premiership created a cost of living crisis hitting the British economy hard.

“With private rents and living costs continuing to soar, at Shelter, we are bracing ourselves for a sharp rise in homelessness in 2023,” Neate added, thanks to a shortage of social homes, an increase in private renting and the cost of living crisis.

“Councils have a duty to ensure no family is left without a roof over their heads,” said a government spokesperson in response to the figures. “That is why we’ve given them £366 million this year to help prevent evictions, support to pay deposits and provide temporary housing.”

They added: “We are also providing significant support to help people through these tough times by holding down energy bills and delivering up to £1,350 in direct cash payments to millions of vulnerable households.”

Lord Bird, founder of The Big Issue and cross-bench peer, said he was “deeply concerned” by the figures and accused the government of “failing those who need them most”.

“With 271,000 people homeless in England alone, and 123,000 of those being children, it is clear urgent action is needed,” he said.

“We need to invest in safety nets to stop even more people falling into poverty and homelessness. Nobody should have to choose between feeding their children, keeping the house warm or paying the rent. And no child should be forced to experience the insecurity and fallout that comes with homelessness.”

Shelter’s research additionally found that living in temporary accommodation has a detrimental impact on people’s health, with almost two-thirds of people saying that living in temporary accommodation has had a negative impact on their mental health and half saying it has had the same negative impact on their physical health. 

Phil, a 65-year-old man living in his van in Camberley, Surrey, has a heart condition and said he became homeless after the breakdown of his relationship of 21 years.

“The cold has been the hardest thing about living in the van. I can’t cook anything. I have McDonalds most days but I’m running out of money for things like that now.

“I’m a 65 year old man. I’d just like somewhere where I could close my door, have a bath, sit down and cook myself something to eat,” Phil said.

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The research revealed London has the highest level of homelessness, where one in 58 people don’t have a home, followed by Luton, with one in 65 people homeless, Manchester one in 74 and Brighton one in 78.

Shelter are receiving on average 1,000 calls per day to their emergency helpline, the charity said, the vast majority of whom are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. 

“Now is the time to support people caught in poverty,” said Lord Bird, “and not let impoverishment and homelessness seep into the lives of those who could avoid it. I urge the government to act now and provide the investment and policies needed to not only pull people out of this crisis but to prevent anymore slipping into it.”

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future. 

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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