The number of people rough sleeping in England has risen for the first time in more than five years, as the cost of living crisis continues to take its toll.
Official statistics released by the Levelling Up Department on Tuesday (28 February) revealed that rough sleeping had increased by 26% in 2022 compared to the previous year. This also represented a 74% increase since 2010, when figures first started to be collected.
It will come as a blow to government ministers, who published an ‘Ending Rough Sleeping For Good Strategy’ in September - restating a Conservative Party manifesto commitment to end “the blight of rough sleeping” by the end of this Parliament. A spokesperson said that while rough sleeping “remains well below pre-pandemic levels”, there is “more to do to help families at risk of losing their homes” and to “end rough sleeping for good”.
Meanwhile, charities have branded the increase in rough sleeping as a “massive, collective failure”. Rick Henderson, chief executive at Homeless Link, said the statistics are “evidence of how the cost of living crisis has exacerbated long-standing drivers of homelessness” - such as a shortage of affordable housing, increasingly stretched healthcare services, and an “often punitive welfare system”.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, added that “more and more people are losing the battle to keep a roof over their heads”. She said: “We’re facing a truly bleak situation, from the huge rise in people being forced to sleep rough on the streets, to the tens of thousands of households turning up at local councils desperate for help.”
The statistics demonstrate that rough sleeping has increased in every region of England, but just 15 local authorities accounted for more than half of the year-on-year rise. These were:
- Christchurch and Poole
- City of London
- Waltham Forest
Across the country, London saw the biggest rise in rough sleeping. A total of 858 people were estimated to be sleeping on the capital city’s streets on a single night, compared with 640 people in 2021 - which amounted to an increase of 34%. Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, and Leicester followed closely behind.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan described the increase as “extremely alarming” and “further evidence of the devastating fallout from the cost of living crisis”. He said: “It is high time ministers got a grip on the escalating food, energy and housing crises and restored the social security safety net which helps stop people becoming trapped in a cycle of homelessness.”
Khan, alongside his counterparts in Manchester and Liverpool, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, recently called for an immediate rent freeze and ban on evictions to help those currently struggling with soaring bills.
How does the rest of the UK compare on rough sleeping?
The new data on rough sleeping in England comes a month after figures from the Scottish Government revealed that the number of people classed as homeless in Scotland had hit an all-time high last year. There were 28,944 open homelessness cases in September 2022 - the highest since records began in 2002.
Meanwhile, in December, warnings emerged that Northern Ireland is heading into a “homelessness disaster”. The chief executive of the Simon Community, Jim Dennison, said that his charity is seeing an increase in people living on the streets because they cannot afford payments on their homes and feel they have no options left.
“It’s very visible, particularly in places like Belfast, we are seeing a lot more street homelessness and street activity, it’s absolutely heart-breaking,” he said.
In Wales, the latest government figures show there were 8,652 people in temporary accommodation at the end of September, an increase since 2021 and 2020.
In addition to the cost of living crisis, another factor contributing to the rise in rough sleeping in England is an increase in the number of families being threatened with homelessness due to a Section 21 notice, or a ‘no-fault eviction’. No-fault evictions were up by 34% in 2022 compared with 2021, despite the government repeatedly stating its intention to ban the use of Section 21 eviction notices - which allow landlords to evict tenants from their homes without having to give a reason.
The government’s new statistics also reported that increasing numbers of people were being threatened with homelessness due to rent arrears, on account of an increase in rental prices. Several leading organisations in the homelessness sector have urged the government to “take action” following the revelations.
Shelter encouraged ministers to unfreeze housing benefit, which it said was still “stuck” at the same level as 2020. Meanwhile, Homeless Link said funding for shelters needs to be increased in line with inflation, so that they can stay open and continue to help people.
A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing ,and Communities said: “Over half a million households have been prevented from becoming homeless or supported into settled accommodation since 2018 ,and rough sleeping remains well below pre-pandemic levels. But we know there is more to do to help families at risk of losing their homes and to end rough sleeping for good.
“That’s why we will be abolishing Section 21 evictions and are investing £2 billion over three years to tackle the issue allocated to areas with the greatest need. This includes financial support for people to find a new home, working with landlords to prevent evictions or providing temporary accommodation, among other preventative measures. Councils have a duty to ensure families are not left without a roof over their head.”
Matt Downie, chief executive of the charity Crisis, commented that the rise in homelessness “frankly shames our society and if alarms bells weren’t ringing across government, they should be now”.
He said the rise in no-fault eviction notices being served shows “we’re on an extremely dangerous course” and said people are being left “exposed, lacking what should be a basic legal protection”, as they await changes under the government’s much-delayed Renters’ Reform Bill.