Rough sleeping rises by 16 per cent in a single year

Charities and opposition parties branded the sharp increase a disgrace

Jon Stone
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 25 January 2017 11:30
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The number of people sleeping rough on the streets has risen by 16 per in a single year, the latest Government figures show.

4,134 people slept rough across England on any given night in 2016, up from 3,569 in 2015, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Charities and opposition parties branded the new stats“appalling” and “a national scandal” while the Government said it was piloting new legislation to address the problem.

A breakdown of the figures also paints a worrying picture, showing that the number of rough sleepers with mental health support needs has tripled over the last five years.

Rough sleeping charity Crisis said that sleeping on the streets was “no way for anyone to live” and called for urgent action from ministers.

“The number of people sleeping on our streets continues to rise at an appalling rate. Behind these statistics are thousands of desperate people, sleeping in doorways, bin shelters, stations and parks – anywhere they can find to stay safe and escape the elements,” chief executive Jon Sparkes said.

“Rough sleeping ruins lives, leaving people vulnerable to violence and abuse, and taking a dreadful toll on their mental and physical health. Our recent research has shown how rough sleepers are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence. This is no way for anyone to live.

St Mungo's chief executive Howard Sinclair called for "a truly cross government strategy to tackle the national scandal of rough sleeping", adding that it was "not inevitable". Graeme Brown, interim chief executive of Shelter, said rough sleeping was only the "tip of the iceberg" and that many thousands more were homeless and living in emergency hostels or on sofas.

“The lack of affordable homes coupled with cuts to welfare have led us to this tragic situation. Until the government provides more homes that people on low incomes can actually afford to live in, the problem will only get worse," he said.

Labour’s shadow housing minister John Healey said the figures were a direct result of Government policies on housing investment and benefit cuts.

“It is a national scandal that in England in the 21st century the number of people forced to sleep rough on our streets is spiralling upwards – and this is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“These figures are a terrible reminder of the consequences of Conservative Ministers’ seven years of failure on housing.

“The number of people sleeping rough fell under Labour but has more than doubled since 2010, and has risen every year under the Conservatives.

“This is a direct result of decisions made by Conservative Ministers: a steep drop in investment for affordable homes, crude cuts to housing benefit, reduced funding for homelessness services, and a refusal to help private renters.

“Ministers’ long-promised housing white paper will fall at the first hurdle if it does not set out how they will end the national shame of rough sleeping, as Labour has committed to do.”

The party said last month it would double the number of homes allocated to a previously successful rough sleeping if it took power. The Government has meanwhile taken a different approach, committing itself to giving local authorities a new duty to house people in danger of losing their homes. That legislation, contained in the Homelessness Reduction Bill, was championed by backbench Tory MP Bob Blackman and is currently subject to amendment and scrutiny.

The Liberal Democrats’ leader Tim Farron said the stats were “an utter disgrace in twenty first century Britain”. He said Britain was a rich country and could afford to house people.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said it was updating legislation to prevent rough sleeping.

“This Government is determined to help the most vulnerable in society, which is why we're investing £550million to 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping,” he said.

“Homelessness is more than just a housing issue so we are now funding projects in 225 local authorities to help those people at risk of becoming homeless, already sleeping rough or those with complex needs, to get back on their feet.

“We are going even further and changing the law by backing Bob Blackman MP's Bill. This will mean that people across the country get the help they need to avoid becoming homeless in the first place.”

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