The number of households classed as homeless increased by 14 per cent last year, Government figures revealed yesterday.
Some 48,510 applications for homelessness assistance were approved by councils, up from 42,390 in 2010.
Among them were 69,460 children or unborn babies, the statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government showed.
Homelessness had decreased rapidly from a peak of 135,590 in 2003 to a low of 41,780 in 2009. There was a small 1.5 per cent increase in 2010 but the scale of this latest rise has horrified housing campaigners.
Leslie Morphy, chief executive of homeless charity Crisis, said: “Our worst fears are coming to pass.
”We face a perfect storm of economic downturn, rising joblessness and soaring demand for limited affordable housing combined with government policy to cut housing benefit plus local cuts to homelessness services.“
Homeless Link, which works with hundreds of homelessness organisations across the UK, said a lack of suitable accommodation meant it was proving more difficult to get people out of hostels and into homes.
Interim chief executive Matt Harrison said: ”We believe a lack of affordable accommodation, rent inflation and housing benefit restrictions are fuelling homelessness and making it more difficult to help people once they become homeless.
“The private rental sector is key to solving homelessness but we need to ensure that this is affordable and accessible to everyone.”
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “These figures are a shocking reminder of the divide between the housing haves and have nots in this country.
”Amid growing economic gloom and rising unemployment, increasing numbers of ordinary families are falling victim to our housing crisis.
Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey blamed the coalition Government's economic and housing policies for the rise.
“It is an absolute tragedy that in 2012 so many families do not have a home they can call their own,” he said.
“The Government's economic policies are failing, leading to rising unemployment, increases in fuel bills and the biggest squeeze on family incomes in a generation.
”Combined with the Government's reckless changes to benefits, it was inevitable that homelessness would rise and that it will continue to rise.“
But Housing Minister Grant Shapps said rising homelessness was the legacy of a ”debt-laden economy“.
”Today's figures underline how the debt-laden economy we inherited is leaving a legacy of hard-up households across the country,“ he said.
”But despite this, homelessness remains lower than for 28 of the last 30 years - and is half the average rate seen under the previous Government.
“Our strong safety net of support is keeping thousands of vulnerable people off the street, and I'm determined to take every opportunity to build on this.”
Mr Shapps said an extra “70 million had been made available to councils in the past year to help households facing the prospect of homelessness, as well as ”400 million of homelessness prevention funding across the current spending review period.