Rough sleeping is England’s shame but it’s politicians who should take the blame

ENGLAND stands condemned by a staggering 165% rise in people sleeping rough since 2010 with housing chiefs quick to call shame – and demand the Government take more action.

“As a country we should be ashamed that there are thousands of people forced to sleep rough in England today, many of whom could die in the bitter winter weather,” said Kate Henderson, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation.

“Despite a slight drop from their peak last year, rough sleeping figures have still increased by nearly three thousand people since 2010 – that speaks for itself, nowhere near enough is being done to help people off the streets and into secure accommodation.

“With a comprehensive spending review on the horizon, there has never been a greater need to invest in affordable housing, and to put money back into vital services to support an increasing number of vulnerable people who are being allowed to slip through the net.”

The latest official estimates were released today by the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG). The headline figures reveal:

  • The total number of people counted or estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night was 4,677
  • This was down by 74 people or 2% from the 2017 total of 4,751, and was up 2,909 people or 165% from the 2010 total of 1,768
  • The number of people sleeping rough increased by 146 or 13% in London, and decreased by 220 or 6% in the rest of England, since 2017
  • London accounted for 27% of the total number of people sleeping rough in England. This is up from 24% of the England total in 2017
  • 64% were UK nationals, compared to 71% in 2017. 22% were EU nationals from outside the UK, compared to 16% in 2017, while 3% were non-EU nationals, compared to 4% in 2017
  • 14% of the people recorded sleeping rough were women, the same as in 2017; and 6% were aged 25 years or under, compared to 8% in 2017

These figures may well indicate England’s shame, but undoubtedly it is Conservative ministers who most need to hang their heads, since this rise has taken place on their watch (aided in the early years by the Liberal Democrats), with an accusing finger pointed squarely at policies they introduced since 2010.

Gavin Smart, the deputy chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) highlighted the “toxic mix” of welfare policy and the chronic shortage of genuinely affordable housing.

“It is frankly unacceptable that thousands of people are being forced to sleep on our streets – and the fact that this number has soared by 165% since 2010 should shame us all,” he said.

“These statistics are a stark reminder of the suffering at the very sharpest end of our national housing crisis. And we must remember that they are partly based on estimates, so the true figure could be even higher.

“We must take action now. The Government’s rough sleeping strategy rightly recognises this and aims to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027 – this is achievable, but only with the right level of investment and all of us pulling out all the stops to end homelessness.

“We believe that a chronic shortage of affordable homes combined with the welfare reforms introduced since 2012 has created a toxic mix. To truly get to the root of the problem, the Government must invest in more genuinely affordable housing as well as reviewing the impact of welfare reforms like the benefit cap, universal credit and the housing benefit freeze for private renters.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said: “It’s a damning reflection of our society that night after night, so many people are forced to sleep rough on our streets – with numbers soaring in the capital – especially when we know that with the right commitment, rough sleeping could be ended for good.

“Living on the streets is one of the most dangerous experiences anyone could face. Not only will rough sleepers experience extreme isolation and often severe weather conditions, but we know they have a high risk of dying young and our own research shows they are 17 times more likely to experience abuse than the general public. No one should have to live like this.

“If the Government is serious about its pledge to end rough sleeping within the next decade, it must do more to address the root causes. This includes ensuring that housing allowance truly covers the cost of renting, and building significantly more social housing to meet the needs of people across the country. It’s the only way to prevent all forms of homelessness in the first place and truly end rough sleeping for good.”



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