The number of homeless people in the UK is soaring by a rate of more than 1,000 a month, according to new analysis which says that one in 200 Britons are now without a permanent place to live.
The figures, which show that 320,000 people are currently known to be sleeping on the streets or stuck in temporary accommodation, highlight the depths of the country’s housing crisis, despite repeated government pledges to get to grips with the problem.
Opposition politicians and campaigners said it was “unforgivable” that so many people had been swept up by the housing crisis and attributed the rise to spiralling rents, welfare cuts and a lack of social housing.
The new data from Shelter, which combines official rough sleeping, temporary accommodation and social services figures, shows the total number of homeless people has increased by 13,000 in the last year and by more than 25,000 in the past two years.
London reported the highest levels of homelessness, with almost 170,000 people, or one in 52, without a place to call home. Cities outside the capital were also disproportionately affected, with the figure standing at one in 67 in Brighton, one in 73 in Birmingham and one in 135 in Manchester.
Homelessness dropped substantially between the late Nineties and 2010, but has been rising since the Conservatives came into power, despite repeated promises from ministers to reduce rough sleeping and build more affordable housing.
The new figures come days after the United Nations condemned the British government’s “punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” treatment of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable, saying policies and drastic cuts to social support were entrenching high levels of poverty and homelessness.
Telli Afrik, in his thirties, lives in a hostel in Waltham Forest with his wife and two children aged three and five after the family stopped being able to afford their privately rented home – despite working. They are now in their sixth hostel.
“At first, we were fortunate because we went to live with my aunt. But not long after we moved in, she died of a heart attack and the council took the house back. We were made homeless instantly. I sobbed that night, all of us were in tears,” said Mr Afrik.
“Our current hostel is so cramped and everyone’s competing for space. My family all sleep in one room and we eat our meals on the floor because we don’t have a table. There are two bathrooms but one isn’t in good shape. It’s hard to bathe. It’s just very tough.
“Financially we’ve been brought to nothing. My confidence – nothing. My family is at breaking point.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s unforgivable that 320,000 people in Britain have been swept up by the housing crisis and now have no place to call home.
“Due to the perfect storm of spiralling rents, welfare cuts and a total lack of social housing, record numbers of people are sleeping out on the streets or stuck in the cramped confines of a hostel room.”
It recently emerged that more than 100,000 households had been stuck on council housing waiting lists for more than 10 years, as the declining number of homes saw families forced into poor and overcrowded temporary accommodation or paying unaffordable rents.
Responding to the findings, shadow housing minister Melanie Onn MP said: “It is appalling that enough people to fill a city the size of Newcastle will wake up this Christmas without a home.
“This is the outcome of eight years of austerity that even the United Nations say was designed to hurt the poor. The Tories’ universal credit scheme is pushing people into rent arrears and making the problem worse.”
Campbell Robb, chief executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said people were being “swept into destitution or homelessness” due to a lack of support in the benefit system and a failure to build enough low-cost rented homes.
“Without a permanent home, it is almost impossible for people to build a better life for themselves or their families,” he said.
“That’s not right – but we can fix it. We should start by building the 80,000 affordable homes a year this country so badly needs.”
Matthew Geer, campaign manager at Turn2us, which helps people in financial hardship to access charitable grants and support services, said low wages, frozen benefits, high rents and a lack of affordable housing were to blame for the crisis.
“It is outrageous that homelessness figures are still rising across the country. There should be no place for rough sleeping, hostel hopping or raising your children in a B&B in 21st century Britain,” he added.
“Action needs to be taken quickly to end homelessness and the detrimental effects that homelessness has on physical and mental health.”
Secretary of state for communities James Brokenshire said the government was investing more than £1.2bn to tackle all forms of homelessness, and that a new law required councils to support people sooner to help prevent them becoming homeless in the first place.
He added: “Our rough sleeping strategy, support for councils and those working on the front line are helping to get people off the street and into accommodation as we enter the colder winter months.
“We are committed to building the homes our country needs – including through our £9bn affordable homes programme and by empowering councils to borrow to build a new generation of council homes.
“But we know that there is more that we need to do and we’re committed to working with Shelter and others to make a positive difference on this important issue.”
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