22 Feb 2022

Core homelessness rates are on the rise as impact of pandemic takes hold

The number of people experiencing homelessness in England is predicted to jump by a third by 2024. The Guardian, citing the forthcoming Homelessness Monitor England 2022 from Crisis and Heriot-Watt University, says that homelessness could rise by 66,000 in the next two years. These findings are supported by CIH’s upcoming UK Housing Review, which predicts further increases in core homelessness in the longer term, particularly in London.

‘Core homelessness’ includes people sleeping rough, but also those staying in places not intended as residential accommodation (e.g. cars, tents, boats, sheds, etc.), living in homeless hostels, refuges and shelters, placed in unsuitable temporary accommodation (e.g. B&B hotels, out-of-area placements, etc.) and sofa-surfing (i.e., staying with non-family, on a short-term basis, in overcrowded conditions). England has markedly higher core homelessness rates, at 0.94 per cent compared with 0.65 per cent in Wales and 0.55 per cent in Scotland (the chart shows the most recent figures comparing all three countries).

Comparison of core homelessness rates across Great Britain, 2018/19

Comparison of core homelessness rates across Great Britain, 2018/19

Source: The Homelessness Monitor: Wales 2021.

This reflects the different housing market supply-demand positions in the GB countries and the implementation of different policy approaches over time. While in general the components show a similar ranking across the three countries, Wales appears to have substantially higher levels of sofa surfing than Scotland, but slightly lower levels of unsuitable temporary accommodation, while being well below English levels on all components.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, core homelessness numbers were on a gradually rising trajectory in England, with overall numbers rising by 14 per cent between 2012 and 2019. The central estimate of core homeless numbers in England in 2020 was 203,400, down from 213,200 in 2019. This reduction of around 10,000 in 2020 was thought primarily attributable to the Everyone In initiative, with clear reductions in rough sleeping (down 33 per cent) and sofa surfing (down 11 per cent), offset somewhat by an increase in hostels, etc., because of hotels being used as part of the pandemic response.

Estimates are not yet available for Scotland and Wales for 2020, but figures for 2019 stood at 14,250 and 8,980 households respectively. In Scotland and Wales, the overall picture was largely one of stability rather than a clear up or down trajectory.

The growth of core homelessness is due in part to its prevalence among European nationals living in the UK, who face tighter restrictions on their ability to claim benefits and housing assistance post-Brexit. Recent research shows they are almost twice as likely to experience the worst forms of homelessness than the general adult population. Around 22,000 EEA national households were experiencing core homelessness in GB at a point in time in the period preceding the COVID pandemic - about nine per cent of total core homelessness.

Baseline forecasts in England show most elements of core homelessness and the overall total remaining significantly above 2020 and pre-COVID-19 levels in the early 2020s, with overall core homelessness in 2024 one-third higher than 2019 levels, and further increases in core homelessness predicted in the longer term, particularly in London. The research shows that a comprehensive programme of measures would be capable of halting this upward trend and reducing core homelessness by 30 per cent in 2031 and 34 per cent in 2041 (comparing the projected effects with what core homelessness would be without any change in policies).

The chapter on homelessness in the 2022 UK Housing Review, due to be published on 28 March 2022 will provide further details and sets out the most effective policies for reducing core homelessness in the medium and longer term.

As Matt Downie of Crisis says, “It doesn’t have to be like this. The protections put in place during the pandemic helped thousands of people off the streets and prevented many more from facing homelessness. It would be shameful for this progress to unravel before us, at a huge human cost and a financial one for the local councils left to foot the bill.”

Rachael Williamson, head of policy and external affairs at the Chartered Institute of housing said, “We need a joined-up well-resourced strategy from Government to tackle homelessness in all its forms.

“At CIH we believe long-term investment in prevention is the way to end homelessness for good; ensuring everyone has a place to call home and the support they need to keep it. Tackling the shortage of genuinely affordable housing and addressing a welfare system that does not properly support people on low incomes to meet their housing costs are key factors in this.”

Members can find out more about the homelessness chapter in the UK Housing Review and sign up the 2022 launch here