Number of rough sleepers up 20% since last Christmas, charity warns

Ministers accused of 'ignoring ongoing crisis' as research estimates number of people sleeping on the streets has doubled in five years

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Friday 14 December 2018 01:03 GMT
Crisis, suggest the true scale of rough sleeping is far higher than government estimates
Crisis, suggest the true scale of rough sleeping is far higher than government estimates (Getty)

Levels of rough sleeping rough in the UK have doubled in five years – rising by 20 per cent in just 12 months, according to new figures.

The government has been accused of "ignoring an ongoing crisis" as research estimates more than 24,000 people are currently sleeping on the streets or in cars, public transport or tents has soared since 2012.

Campaigners said reduced investment for affordable homes, cuts to housing benefit and a lack of protection for private renters had prompted the rise, leaving thousands of people with no choice but to sleep rough.

It shows the largest increase was in England, where the figure has soared by a staggering 120 per cent in five years to around 22,000. In Scotland, by contrast, the number of people recorded as sleeping rough has dropped by 6 per cent to 1,600.

The research, collated by academics at Heriot-Watt University for Crisis, suggest the true scale of rough sleeping is far higher than government estimates, which put the figure for England at 4,751.

The findings come after official figures revealed the number of children without a home in England has hit a 12-year high, with 123,630 minors now housed in temporary accommodation – marking a 70 per cent increase since 2010.

Tracy, who is in her fifties and didn’t want to use her full name, is currently homeless in London and spent a year and a half between hostels and rough sleeping, while also holding down a job as a cleaner.

After escaping a manipulative partner, she moved into shared accommodation. But the property was “running alive with cockroaches” and overcrowded to the point where there were “12 people to a small room”, so she started sleeping in a tent instead.

“I would sometimes go into hostels, then back into tents. It was awful. It’s not easy sleeping rough and going to work Sometimes I had to get up at 3.30am to get to work for 6am. I joined a gym for £33 a month and would go in there to wash,” she said.

“It was really scary at night. And people treat you like rubbish. Once I asked a woman for directions and she jumped down my throat thinking I was asking for money.”

Theresa May, the prime minister, recently unveiled a £100m government fund in an attempt to eradicate rough-sleeping in England by 2027, but the government has been criticised for not acting quickly enough.

Legislation enacted by the Scottish government in 2012, which entitles everyone who finds themselves homeless through no fault of their own to accommodation, has seen homelessness applications drop by 39 per cent over the last decade.

By contrast, in England and Wales housing is generally offered only to 'priority need' households with children or vulnerable people.

Responding to the figures, John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing secretary, said: "Slashing investment for affordable homes, cutting housing benefit, reducing funding for homelessness services, and turning their backs on private renters.

“The number of people sleeping rough fell under Labour but has risen dramatically since 2010. A Labour government will end rough sleeping within five years, and tackle the root causes of rising homelessness.”

Jon Glackin, a former rough sleeper and founder of Street Kitchen, which provides meals for homeless people, accused ministers of "ignoring an ongoing problem".

He added: "I'm seeing more and more homeless people every week, and the government's response is abysmal. There's a real lack of concern," he added.

"They said they were going to commit £100m, but this isn't new money. Every time they announce new initiatives, it's acquired through further cuts somewhere else.

"They're more interested in cultivating good relationships with businesses than addressing the fact that people are dying on the streets."

Previous research by Crisis showed homeless people were almost 17 times more likely to be victims of violence and 15 times more likely to be verbally abused compared to the general public.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “This situation simply cannot continue. While the Scottish government has taken the first step in announcing a plan to eradicate homelessness, full implementation cannot come soon enough.

"Meanwhile, the governments in England and Wales must step up urgently with their own plans to end this crisis."

Kevin Stewart, Scottish housing minister, said: “We are clear that one person being made homeless is one too many though which is why we have made it a priority to end homelessness and rough sleeping.

“All parts of the UK are also having to cope with the impact of UK government welfare cuts and universal credit which is risking an increase in homelessness for many vulnerable people.”

Heather Wheeler, UK minister for housing and homelessness, said: “It is simply unacceptable that anyone has to sleep on the streets which is why we have set out bold plans backed by £1.2bn to tackle all forms of homelessness, including our £100m Rough Sleeping Strategy.”

“This is already making a difference through additional bed spaces and support workers and new legislation means people at risk are getting the help they need more quickly.

“But we know more needs to be done to end rough sleeping for good and are committed to work with partners like Crisis to do just that.”

If you see someone sleeping rough, contact StreetLink in England and Wales, or local councils in Scotland, to connect them with the homelessness services in their area. If you have immediate concerns about their welfare, call 999

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