How bad of a problem is “rough sleeping” (people without a home sleeping outside for example on the pavement, in a park or in a car park) in England? And can anything be done to reduce the number of people who sleep rough?
It’s bad and the government could remdy it quite quickly.
The scale of the problem
The number of people sleeping rough has risen considerably since 2010. It’s happening all across the country. There are more people sleeping rough who are born in the UK than there used to be and an increase in the number of people from East Europe sleeping rough.
There are debates around the best way to count who sleeps rough but the trend is clear: a significant sustained increase in the number of people sleeping rough.
The increase in the number of people sleeping rough is happening all across England, not just in London, as the chart below shows.
The increase is only partly due to more people from Central and Eastern European sleeping rough. It’s true that, in London since 2010 the number of people from Central and Eastern European London sleeping rough has grown by 182 per cent, but the number of people who were born in the UK who are sleeping rough has also increased (by 84 per cent), as the chart below shows:
What can be done?
Government policy could quickly reduce the number of people sleeping rough in England by giving low income households more money to pay their rent.
There is a lively debate around how to respond to the increased number of people sleeping rough. Many people’s instinct is to increase the number of emergency shelters. These can be effective in some cases (although it’s worth bearing in mind that surveys show that few homeless people want to move into hostels). Similarly, some (myself included) have been very impressed with the so-called ‘housing first‘ approach or the ‘No First Night Out‘ pilot in East London.
These approaches might be part of a solution, but it would be preferable if fewer people were being made homeless in the first place. Being made homeless is traumatic. There need to be preventative measures taken, which would mean that people didn’t become homeless and didn’t need a hostel.
The quickest and most straightfoward way of reducing the number of people sleeping rough in England would be to give low income households more money to help them to meet the cost of their rent.
The ‘Local Housing Allowance’ (money given to low income families who rent privately) is too low to stop a significant number of people each year from finding themselves with no alternative but to sleep rough.
Most households who recieve the Local Housing Allowance will not become homeless, but the amount paid is now so low that homelessness is a risk for a significant number of households.
To join Shelter’s campaign to raise the Local Housing Allowance, click here
All charts from the excellent https://crisis.org.uk/media/236823/homelessness_monitor_england_2017.pdf