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The number of people sleeping rough in England falls for the fourth straight year

In total 2,440 people were counted as sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2021, according to official figures

rough sleeping

The Westminster government has promised to end rough sleeping by 2024. Image: Jon Tyson / Unsplash

The number of people counted as sleeping rough in England’s official annual count has fallen for the fourth straight year.

The official figures showed 2,440 people were estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2021.

The statistics, which are based on single-night counts and estimates, show an almost 10 per cent fall on the 2,688 people counted in 2020 and are almost 50 per cent lower than then peak in 2017 when 4,751 people were counted as living on the streets.

But the numbers are also 38 per cent higher than when the Conservatives took power in 2010 when 1,110 people were experiencing street homelessness.

Rough sleeping minister Eddie Hughes said: “The government remains focused on ending rough sleeping by the end of this parliament and we’re making excellent progress towards this. 

“Today’s figures are testament to that, showing our investment is helping more people have a roof over their heads and the best possible chance of turning their lives around.”

The figures showed rough sleeping decreased in every region of England in 2021 with the largest decrease coming in London. In total 640 people were counted on the English capital’s streets, down 10 per cent from the 710 people estimated to be on the streets in 2020.

However, nearly half of all the people sleeping rough in the count were in London and the south-east of England.

Responding to the figures, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Since becoming mayor, I’ve made tackling rough sleeping a personal priority and while it is encouraging that there are fewer people sleeping on London’s streets this year compared to this time last year, I know that there is more work to do.

Most people sleeping rough in England were male, aged over 26 years old and from the UK, a similar demographic to recent years.

Homeless Link chief executive Rick Henderson welcomed the the continued reduction in rough sleeping but said more work is needed to prevent people from falling into homelessness as well as a wider rollout of Housing First to help people off the streets.

“After nearly a decade of continual rises, a fourth year on year decrease in the number of people sleeping rough on any given night is something to celebrate,” said Henderson. “The hard work of homeless services on the front-line, in partnership with government and local authorities, has shown us that rough sleeping is not inevitable, that we can dream of one day living in a society where it has all but been eradicated.”

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He added: “With the government’s target of ending rough sleeping by 2024 fast approaching, it will be critical to redouble our efforts over the next two years. With the much-reported cost of living crisis starting to take effect, private sector evictions rising again and some of those housed during the pandemic returning to the streets, a tough year lies ahead.” 

The number of people counted as sleeping rough in England in the official counts has been rising for the majority of the last decade but has fallen in recent years.

The biggest fall came in 2020 with a 37 per cent that was largely attributed to the impact of the Everyone In scheme which saw 37,000 people experiencing rough sleeping offered hotel accommodation when the pandemic hit in March 2020.

The 2020 figures were 43 per cent down on the 2017 peak when 4,751 people were counted as sleeping rough but the numbers were also 50 per cent higher than when the Conservatives took power in 2010 when 1,110 people were sleeping rough.

However, Loritta Johnson, The Salvation Army’s director of homelessness services, warned that the methods used to produce the count should “be met with caution”.

“We are still very concerned that the numbers of people rough sleeping in England continue to be much higher than in 2010, but any apparent fall in rough sleeping is to be welcomed,” said Johnson.

“These government snapshot figures only cover who was sleeping rough on one particular night in England during the autumn and therefore are limited and should be met with caution. The Salvation Army is calling for reforms to data collection, and for more robust figures to be used to measure homelessness in England, much like the quarterly CHAIN figures for London, so we all have a true scale of reality of rough sleeping across the UK.”

The Westminster government is targeting an end to rough sleeping by 2024. This week ministers announced they would scrap the Vagrancy Act – the almost 200-year-old law that criminalises rough sleeping – as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Rough sleeping minister Eddie Hughes also issued a call for business and charity leaders to be “more generous” in offering people who have experienced street homelessness work. 

However, charity Crisis released estimates that warned the number of people experiencing the worst forms of homelessness – including rough sleeping and sofa surfing – could rise by a third by 2024 as pandemic support systems are removed and households face a cost of living crisis.

Crisis chief executive Matt Downie said the “encouraging” rough sleeping figures published today show the need to prevent against complacency.

“We cannot be complacent – one person sleeping on the streets is too many but for thousands to be facing this brutality is simply unacceptable,” said Downie. “We must also remember that all the protections are now gone, and with the cost-of-living crisis piling additional pressure on to cash-strapped budgets, councils are sounding the alarm that more people risk being thrown into the void of homelessness.”

Youth homelessness charity Depaul also warned the cost of living crisis could hit young people particularly hard and leave them at increased risk of losing their home.

Daniel Dumoulin, head of rough sleeping for Depaul, said: “To meet its commitment of ending rough sleeping within this parliament, the government must prevent youth homelessness at its source and invest in tailored, age-appropriate accommodation, if not the crisis of homelessness could affect more young people already reeling from the effects of the pandemic.”

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