Rough sleeping in England rises for seventh year

Media caption,
Four stories of rough sleeping in England

Rough sleeping in England has increased for the seventh year in a row, new official figures reveal.

There were 4,751 people counted or estimated to be bedding down outside in autumn 2017, a 15% rise on the year before and more than double the figure recorded five years ago.

The figures provide a snapshot of rough sleeping on a typical night and showed about a quarter were in London.

The government said it was investing £1bn to tackle rough sleeping.

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Of the people counted in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) figures, 653 were women, 760 were EU nationals from outside the UK and 193 were from outside the EU.

Most councils provide an estimate based on intelligence from local services but some conduct a count of the number of people seen sleeping rough on a single night.

They do not include people who are in hostels, shelters or sofa surfers.

Rough sleeping increased in London by 18% in a year and by 14% across the rest of England. The north west recorded an increase of 39%.

Housing charity Shelter said the figures may be an underestimate because many people "hide and remain out of sight", meaning that counts often miss those who bed down for the night in derelict buildings.

Chief executive Polly Neate, said: "These figures expose the worst pain inflicted by our housing crisis.

"We have failed as a society when so many people are forced to sleep rough. But they are not alone, the scourge of homelessness extends far beyond our streets.

"Hidden away in emergency B&Bs, temporary bedsits and on friends' sofas are hundreds of thousands of other homeless people, including families with children."

Homelessness charities said the figures showed the need for "urgent" action.

Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St Mungo's, said: "Another huge rise in the number of men and women sleeping rough in England, for seven years in a row and 169% since 2010, is shocking and a scandal."

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: "It is truly a catastrophe that in a country as prosperous as this, more and more people are finding themselves forced to sleep in dangerous and freezing conditions."

From April councils will be legally obliged to provide services to anyone at risk of becoming homeless, not just those with a priority need such as vulnerable people or families with children.

Media caption,
Hugo Sugg: 'I've been homeless more than once'

The National Audit Office said homelessness of all kinds had increased "significantly" over six years.

Although London accounted for almost a quarter of all rough sleepers, figures for individual authorities showed areas such as Brighton and Hove, Bedford, Luton, Oxford, Southend-on-Sea, Eastbourne and Thanet all recorded high rates.

The 217 rough sleepers counted in Westminster was equivalent to about 18 for every 10,000 households. In Brighton and Hove there were 178 rough sleepers, equivalent to about 14 for every 10,000 households.

The biggest rise in rough sleepers recorded by an individual council was the London borough of Camden, which saw its number jump to more than seven times the figure for the previous year, up from 17 to 127.

The north west of England recorded the biggest proportional rise in the number of rough sleepers.

The jump from 313 to 434 between autumn 2016 and autumn 2017 was a 39% rise. Cheshire East saw rough sleeping increase from four cases to 21. However, the earlier figure was based on a count of rough sleepers and the latest is an estimate.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, said the government needed to allow authorities to borrow more to invest in new homes.

Housing spokesman Councillor Martin Tett said: "If we want to end homelessness then councils need to be given the powers and funding to adapt welfare reforms and begin building affordable homes again."

A spokesman for the MHCLG: "No one should ever have to sleep rough. That's why this Government is committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it altogether by 2027.

"To break the homelessness cycle once and for all, we are providing over £1 billion of funding, supporting rough sleepers with the most complex needs through a new Housing First approach and bringing in the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.

"In addition a new cross-Government taskforce supported by a panel of experts will drive forward a new strategy that will make life on the streets a thing of the past."

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