Housing

The number of people sleeping rough in London has surged 20% in just a year

Sobering statistics show more than 10,000 people are sleeping rough in London just 18 months before deadline on government’s promise to end rough sleeping

rough sleeping in London

The Westminster government has promised to end rough sleeping by the end of 2024 but rising rough sleeping in London means there is "no hope" of hitting that target, according to one housing charity boss. Image: Jon Tyson / Unsplash

The number of people sleeping rough in London has surged by more than a fifth in just a year as the deadline for the government’s promise to end rough sleeping moves closer.

A total of 10,053 people were spotted on the streets of the English capital between April 2022 and March 2023, according to London’s Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain) figures, up 21% on the 8,329 people spotted in 2021/22.

There was also a sharp increase in the number of people spotted sleeping rough for the first time. The 6,391 people who were new to the streets represented a 26% rise on the 5,091 spotted a year previously, causing homelessness charities to warn of the impact of the cost of living crisis.

Last week 32 homelessness charities wrote to Rishi Sunak warning that the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto promise of eradicating rough sleeping by the end of 2024 was set to be missed. The latest figures are a blow to that promise and also show the scale of the task facing Prince William, who is launching his own bid to end homelessness this week.

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said rising rough sleeping in London was “extremely alarming”.

“Today’s figures show that we need much more support from central government, and better co-operation between departments if we’re to end rough sleeping in London,” said Khan. “I’ll continue to urge ministers to get a grip on the cost of living crisis and restore the social security safety net which stops people becoming trapped in a cycle of homelessness.”

The London-only Chain figures are considered one of the most accurate measures of rough sleeping in the UK as they track the flow of rough sleepers over time rather than the single-night counts used for the official rough sleeping snapshot.

The 10,053 people spotted in London is 54% higher than the 6,508 people sleeping rough in the English capital 10 years ago.

It is the third highest figure in the last decade and the highest outside of the years when the Everyone In scheme was protecting rough sleepers during the pandemic.

The new data showed a 24% decrease in rough sleeping between 2020/21 and 2021/22, as pandemic measures wound down, but the cost of living crisis has seen figures rise steeply.

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Lee Buss-Blair, director of operations at housing association Riverside, said: “Everyone should be concerned by this significant increase in rough sleeping in our nation’s capital.

“After record numbers of people slept rough in London in 2019/20 the steep decline in rough sleeping during the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021 showed what could be achieved when political will – and resources – were committed to a problem that need not exist.

“The government now has 18 months to make good on its manifesto pledge of ending rough sleeping in this parliament.”

Matt Downie, Crisis chief executive, added: “These figures are incredibly tragic and should serve as a wake-up call for the government.

“At this rate, there’s frankly no hope that they will hit their target of ending rough sleeping by 2024. Inflation, rising rents and a lack of good, genuinely affordable homes are forcing more and more people into desperate situations. This is the sharp end of the cost of living crisis.”

A government spokesperson said: “We remain focused on ending rough sleeping for good.

“This is why we have given councils £2 billion over three years, to help them tackle homelessness, targeted to areas where it is needed most.

“In London, this includes the rough sleeping initiative which is providing up to £166m to 35 councils over three years from April 2022 to March 2025. Councils have a duty to offer tailored support to vulnerable people, including help to access accommodation, mental health services, immigration advice and help to find employment or training.”

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The annual statistics show more than 2,000 people had been seen rough sleeping in London for two consecutive years.

Around 1,500 people had returned to the streets after more than a year without sleeping rough. The number of people in this situation rose by almost a third when compared to 2021/22.

Emma Haddad, chief executive of St Mungo’s, said a lack of affordable housing is one of the drivers in street homelessness.

She called for housing benefits to be raised to cover rising rents and prevent people from ending up on the street. New research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies showed just 5% of properties on property site Zoopla are covered by housing benefit after local housing allowance rates were frozen in 2020.

“The 21% increase in the number of people experiencing street homelessness in London is a tragic reflection of the impact of the cost of living crisis and the severe lack of affordable housing,” said Haddad. “The shrinking supply of affordable homes in the private rented sector, and the chronic undersupply of social housing, means people are struggling to find and keep somewhere to live.  

“To prevent the current situation from worsening, we urge the government to increase housing benefit so it properly reflects the true cost of renting. Without immediate intervention, the number of people sleeping rough will continue to rise.” 

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Mayor of London Khan also warned the proposed Illegal Migration Bill is at odds with the government’s promise to end rough sleeping.

Chain figures showed there was a 16% increase in rough sleepers from the UK spotted in London when comparing stats from April 2022 and March 2023.

By comparison, the number of rough sleepers from EU countries rose 21% over the same period while there was a 71% increase in people spotted with nationalities from the rest of the world.  

“The government should urgently review how they can prevent this legislation leading to more people becoming homeless,” said Khan.

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